Things I Will Never Make My Children Do

By Melissa Stefanec

When you’re raising children, you’re bound to learn some universal truths. One of those truths is: you can’t make another human being do something. 

No matter how much you want or need someone else to do something, you can’t make them. Humans are blessed with free will, and no human, even a parent, can trump that will.

When my kids were very young, I quickly discovered children are no exception. I couldn’t force my kids to do things. Instead, I had to motivate, coach and convince them. I had to learn how to use my own actions, praise, love and consequences to drive the behaviors I wanted my children to exhibit.

When you’re raising children, you also learn a parent is a child’s greatest influencer. I may not be able to make my kids do things, but I hold a lot of power over them. This great responsibility has led me to a lot of introspection.

That introspection has led me to questions like: What behaviors should I never squander my power on? What battles aren’t worth fighting? What age-old wisdom and common practices are patently wrong? What should one human never “make” another human do?

After more than a decade of introspection, here is a list of those things.

• Finish everything on their plates

There is a fine line between being wasteful and gorging oneself. Although I offer my children small amounts of new foods, I never make them eat these foods. Force feeding my kids isn’t going to make them like that food. Instead of forcing my kids to overeat, I talk to them about the implications of food waste. I also withhold dessert if they don’t finish their food. 

• Swear allegiance to a religion

I know this is a touchy subject. I know plenty of amazing parents who indoctrinate their children in a faith. I’m not here to fault people for that. Personally, I believe faith and spirituality are far too important and beautiful things to force another person into. I talk to my kids about a lot of different faiths and belief systems and invite them to explore these systems for themselves.

• Be nice to someone who is being unkind to them

There is a difference between being respectful and being a doormat. I teach my children to use kind words and actions as ammo against mean people. If that doesn’t work, I teach them to walk away. If their interrogator follows and persists, I have taught my kids to breathe fire.

• Kiss or a hug someone

Affection is earned. It’s not a guarantee. People don’t owe it to each other. We should have jurisdiction over our own bodies. If I make my kids kiss or hug (or accept kisses or hugs) when they don’t want to, what am I teaching them? It’s never OK to force yourself on another human or have another human force themselves on you. Age shouldn’t be a factor.

• Say “I love you” to someone

“I love you” is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give each other. Saying it should be special and heartfelt. Most importantly, it should be sincere. Forcing someone to say “I love you” teaches a child the opposite. My children say “I love you” because they feel it.

• Act, behave or dress a certain way because of their sex

I was a tomboy. I’ve always
liked traditional boy things as much as (or more than) girly things. Throughout my life, people made me feel bad for that. I can tell you it did zero good. It only hurt me. People should be comfortable being themselves. I am teaching my children
the value of authenticity and

• Ignore their fear

In present-day society, fearmongers have given the emotion a bad name. However, at its core, fear is a valuable emotion. It’s trying to tell us something. It’s trying to warn us. I teach my children to respect fear. Fear is a great protector. I teach my children to listen to their gut instincts.

• Lie or shrug off being hurt

I don’t teach my children to swallow their pain. Whether that pain is physical or emotional, it’s real. As an adult, I would feel so much shame if people told me I was a whiner when I was hurting. I don’t teach my kids to get over things. I teach them to embrace and work through difficulties and pain.

• Match their clothes

Matching is so overrated. If we aren’t going to a special occasion or posing for family pictures, I let my kids think tie-dye bottoms match tie-dye tops. My son has been known to sport a pair of camo shorts and a Hawaiian button-down shirt. They have their whole adult lives to worry about fashion.

• Read only certain kinds of books

My kids read all kinds of books. From comic books, to graphic novels, to childhood soap operas, to nonfiction, to children’s stories, to serious novels, my kids dabble in it all. They are reading and enjoying books. That’s all that matters.

• Act like other children

I do not compare my children to other children, especially when I am frustrated with them. Comparing them to other children does one thing; it makes them feel ashamed. As a parent, I aim for introspection, not shame. Shame does bad things to a human’s psyche.