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Picking Battles With Kids in 3 Crucial Areas

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Her hair. From about age 8 to 11, my daughter and I went round and round about it—washing it, drying it, braiding it, and the task that pushed us both over the edge: brushing out the knots. I cannot tell you how many times we started or ended the day with tears because of this battle.

Now she’s 14 with long, well-groomed hair. But even if things hadn’t worked out that way, I still don’t think it was a battle I ever should’ve fought. Hindsight is 20/20, so how can you know which battles are worth fighting and which aren’t when you’re in the thick of it? Well, when you’re picking battles with kids, most fall into one of 3 categories. Here’s what they are along with how to determine when to fight and when to let go.

The three big battlegrounds are bad habits, academic issues, and character issues. If you stop and think for a moment, there is probably more than one battle in each category currently being fought in your home. So run each issue through this filter when picking battles with kids.

The Bad Habits

Fight the bad habits that affect his relationships or health, such as eating too much junk food, not brushing teeth, staying up very late, having too much screen time, leaving messes for others to clean up.

Let go of all the other “little things” that bug you. For us, these were things like biting her nails, leaving shoes untied, singing really loudly, or picking his nose. Yeah, it’s gross, but it’s not really hurting anybody.

The Academic Issues

Fight the issues that have caused repeated concern or hinder your child from having a good learning experience, like extreme disorganization, grades that are consistently below potential, anxiety about going to school, or reports of bullying.

Let go of all of the things that are “a little off” in your opinion. Perhaps her grades could be a little higher, his backpack could be a little more organized, or he could participate a little more in class. Let it go. And if your child is excelling in an area that is not as important to you, you might have to accept that that’s his or her personality. For example, if you were an A student but not interested in sports and your son is a B student but passionate about baseball and thriving in that environment, it’s probably worth letting go of the pressure to get all A’s.

The Character Issues

Choose the one that feels most urgent. Character issues are the hardest to choose because essentially, they are all important. But there is likely one character issue at a time that you can identify in your child as the glaring culprit. Let’s say I notice my son has been lying lately. He’s always had a tendency to stretch the truth, but it’s become more frequent, and it’s causing problems in several areas of his life. This is a battle I want to choose right now before it gets out of hand.

Keep in mind that the goal isn’t to perfect your child before he or she turns 18! We work on growing in these areas all our lives. You are just helping him or her on the journey, one step at a time.

Let go of some other important things for now. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore an extremely disrespectful comment just because you aren’t focusing on teaching respect at that moment. It’s more like you don’t tackle every character infraction you see because that can come across as white noise or general disapproval to your child.

Help Letting Go

When picking battles with kids, letting go is easier said than done, right? We have the responsibility of shaping our children and there’s a fine line between shaping and controlling. So remember these two big truths: Many behaviors will correct themselves over time and you cannot change your child’s personality. You’ll be able to lay down your weapons more easily if those two truths stay top of mind. And think of yourself as a highlighter rather than a red pen. Try to highlight your child’s strengths rather than point out his or her faults.

How do you choose your battles in parenting?


What is one bad habit you wish you could change? What’s one good habit you want to keep?

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