We all want our kids to listen to and respect us as parents. The days of harsh physical punishments are essentially over as parents are trying to be more in-tune and sensitive to their children’s emotional needs. How do we find a balance between getting our kids to do what we want them to do without feeling like we are compromising our parental values? The fact is, there are several factors involved in a child’s willingness to cooperate with us. A child not doing what we say isn’t necessarily about “not listening” as much as it is about her ability to listen to and carry out the steps you want her to do in that particular moment. Before getting frustrated, try asking yourself these seven questions by psychotherapist, writer and parenting expert Andrea Nair:
1. How full is her attachment tank?
Children will feel more inclined to listen and cooperate when they feel securely attached to the person delivering the instructions. Pay attention to how full or empty her connection or “attachment” tank is with her parents or the person putting the demands. While it is not realistic that everyone in the child’s life will have the same attachment as a parent, (there will be times when they are in other settings like daycare or school) chances are, the majority of the time they are with people they feel attached to.
2. Is she compromised?
Make sure to check that the “kid-compromisers” are not too high. This can be anything that put a child’s focus on getting their physical needs met, instead of on you. If a child is hungry, tired or over-stimulated, the chances that she will be able to focus on cleaning her bedroom, or following your directions are small. Children with learning and developmental differences may really struggle in this area, so we have to be realistic with each individual child and his specific personality. We want to set them up to be successful, not to fail.
3. Do you have unreasonable expectations?
Sometimes very well-meaning parents ask too much of their children for their age, developmental level and physical abilities. Parents often become frustrated with young children when they won’t comply to their expectations with certain activities, like errands. However if you are talking about a toddler who is just learning to walk around and explore the world, he is going to grab things from store shelves, he is going to run down the aisles (probably even away from you!) Think about how realistic it is to expect him to refrain from doing these things at his particular developmental stage. Nair pointed out, brilliantly, in her article that as parents we must choose our battles, or we will constantly be yelling at our kids Obviously life is busy and it is not always possible to leave a child at home while we run to the grocery store, but if it can be arranged then do it, if someone offers to watch him take them up on it. Don’t make it harder for yourself and your child if you don’t have to. Another great rule of thumb; childproof your home so that your child can be in areas without you needing to constantly say, “No. Don’t touch that,” or “Don’t open that drawer.” We want to try our best to say Yes more than we say No.
4. Is she dealing with intense emotions?
It is normal to have big, strong feelings on a regular basis. Unfortunately big reactions can come at inopportune times (like trying to get out the door) but when time is taken to calm everyone down and regroup, kids will be more able to hear you. Meet the emotional intensity with empathy. Reel in your negative self-talk like “I don’t have time for this crap!” and look at your emotional child. Connect with her by asking yourself, “What does my child need right now?” While you may have somewhere to be or something to do, these emotional outbursts tend to decrease or settle when a child feels important to and listened to by her parent and when she sees a parent using a calm-down plan (and is taught how to have one, too.) Certainly there will be times when it is difficult to be empathetic but if we put in the time to address these emotional times, chances are it will be easier for both you and your child next time.
5. Are you giving warnings about transitions?
Children need to know ahead of time when a transition is coming, especially kids with learning and/or developmental differences. Using signals and warnings are a great way to remind a child that the next thing is coming and to avoid springing a child with an, “OK, time to go home” when they weren’t expecting it. For children who may need a little more support during transitions, offer a picture schedule to help with the activities of the day. Show pictures to demonstrate the next thing on the agenda, and give plenty of time for them to process/anticipate what is next.
6. Are you using clear instructions?
Use simple, clear instructions to deliver your message. Remember to use a statement like, “It’s shoes-on time,” versus a yes/no question (which will likely be met with “NO!”). Avoid using “OK?” at the end of an instruction as that turns it into a yes/no question. Avoid adding too many steps, especially for a child who is really little or who has a learning or developmental differences.
7. Are you being fun?
You don’t need to be coercive in order to get kids to do what you want; Be friendly, be fun, be caring and smile. You would be surprised what you can get your child to accomplish when you deliver your message in a firm and friendly way. Do you like to be nagged at or continually told what to do? Neither do your kids!
Some great examples of ways to communicate that encourage cooperation: Instead of, “Go wash your hands.” Use: “Everyone with clean hands is eating.” (Remember to smile!) Instead of, “I told you three times already to get your shoes on!” Use: “When this song is over, you know it’s time to put your shoes on.” (Remember, warnings about the transition!)