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 | By Sheri Wohlfert

When Kids Test the Limits of Parenting

There are dozens of reasons parenting is the greatest “gig” on earth, but there are also days it can seem like the toughest job on the planet! The common denominator to our tough days is often authority. The parents’ job is to establish and uphold it and the child’s role is to question and test it. More often than we’d like, the line between negotiation and manipulation can get a little fuzzy. Here are some tips for successfully managing conflict without emotional blackmail, whining, complaining and habitual arguing.


Truth #1.

It’s natural for kids to throw temper tantrums, lie, have emotional outbursts and argue to get what they want. They will try anything to get a reaction that leads to an outcome in their favor. Your response to this truth can change everything!

Truth #2.

The demands of life often leave parents tired, stressed and frustrated. We can’t allow ourselves to “be tapped out” and give in to our kids’ manipulative behavior, so we need to plan our response when the storm is calm instead of trying to paddle when the storms are raging.

The great news.

It takes two to tango and you control the music. As humans, we need to learn to make our needs known. We have to be able to negotiate, compromise and problem-solve, and we begin learning how to do these important things as kids. Parents are the first teachers of these lessons.

Yes, it’s exhausting.

Kids will push hard, and you are what they push against. Consistency, love and persistent expectations of acceptable behavior are the greatest ways to show our love for our kids.

Know your triggers and don’t take the bait.

Kids figure out our weaknesses and they play on them. They can play the sad, unfair, “you don’t love me or my friends” card at just the right moment to break you down. Knowing ahead of time how you’ll maneuver in these moments will allow you to follow through in a way that helps your child learn and keeps you calm.

It’s not about you.

If your kids lie or talk disrespectfully, it is more about them testing boundaries and getting what they want. It really isn’t personal, so remember: You are the rock their waves of emotion crash against, and you need to remain strong and focused. Our kids can’t be the source of our affirmations and friendship; we need to seek those things from other adults.

Think long haul, not short game.

Fussing over candy, screen time, toys, attention, cars and curfews are all part of normal and healthy growth and development. We want our kids to grow up to be confident problem-solvers capable of compromise and negotiation, and we also want them to have a voice. We can’t throw up our hands and wish they’d just stop testing us. Instead, prayerfully approach each of those situations and know they are part of raising great saints.

Ultimate reminder.

As you prayerfully prepare your response plan, remember that our goal as Catholic parents is to make sure our kids are holy, healthy and safe. Let these three things form your responses to conflict. They allow us to respond with phrases such as, “I want you to be healthy, so you won’t be eating a Twinkie for breakfast,” or “I do love you, and going to place X just isn’t safe,” or “God chose to make me your parent, so I need to do what’s best for you and let every other parent make the decision for their own kids.” A quick shout-out to the Holy Spirit for words and the Blessed Mother for intercession at the moment of conflict is always a powerful first step.

Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic school teacher, speaker, writer and founder of Joyful Words Ministries. Sheri blogs at

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