My many thanks to Teacher Tom, Tom Hobson, for the inspiration of this post.
“You can serve children healthy food, but you can’t make them eat. So quit trying.
You can put children into their bed, but you can’t make them sleep. So quit trying.”
I’ve halfway joked with people who’ve said, “I’ve tried everything in the book,” that it’s time to get a new book. But “quit trying” is even better. The assumption behind “I’ve tried everything” is that it’s actually our job to try. It’s our job to make kids eat vegetables or trick them into staying in their bed. There are some who have said, “I’ve tried quitting; It doesn’t work either.” But have they? The tone of their voice says that they’ve actually started using “the silent treatment,” which is just passive aggressive, not actually giving up. I think the silent treatment may be toward the top of the list of worst things because we are leveraging our whole relationship on obedience.
To stop trying we must actually not treat our children any different whether the request is fulfilled or not. Here’s how I might explain “quit trying” to someone about healthy food.
“I don’t understand why my child won’t eat their vegetables! I’ve tried everything!”
“You can serve healthy food, but you can’t make them eat. So quit trying.”
“What? And let them get away with it?!”
“According to you, they’re getting away with it already!”
“But how do you make your children eat so well?”
“I don’t make them. We serve healthy food and when they’re hungry they eat it and ask for more. When they’re not hungry, they don’t eat it. They are learning to trust when their body is satisfied.”
“But then they wake up in the middle of the night and ask them for a snack.”
“Don’t give them one. Tell them they can eat again at breakfast.”
“But then she’ll throw a tantrum!”
“And she’ll be more likely to eat what you give her for breakfast. You’ll also be teaching her that you won’t be manipulated by tantrums. You’ll be modeling healthy relationship boundaries.”
I’ll add a few more statements to his list.
You can love someone, but you can’t make them love you. So stop trying.
You can debate with someone, but you can’t make them agree with you. So stop trying.
You can offer learning opportunities, but you can’t make someone learn. So stop trying.
And the old adage holds true: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” The connection people forget to make is that trying to force them to drink will ruin their trust in you; they may stop doing other things you lead them to.