If you haven’t already read my blog post about how we can unknowingly train our children to ignore us until we shout, I recommend that you pause and go read it here.
It describes what happens when you don’t break the cycle of nagging, shouting, desperately trying to get your child to listen and behave, and why the behaviour escalates so that your children only listen when you threaten them.
With shouting often come threats, punishments and bribes, which erode the very reason our kids WANT to listen to us.
It doesn’t feel good to us as parents either because we know it’s not what we want to be doing. We know it doesn’t feel good to threaten or punish our children. It leaves us feeling powerless – no wonder, we shout and get so stressed out!
“If only my child would behave, I wouldn’t have to put her on a time out and take away her iPad.”
Can you see what’s going on? You’re giving away your power, blaming your child for making you do something that you don’t want to do. You feel forced into it.
With this faulty logic you think that if you’re just firmer, stricter or meaner, soon your child will comply and then you won’t have to behave in a way that you don’t like. – But it doesn’t work like that does it?
Your child is thinking that you’re controlling her, and making her do something she doesn’t want to do… because really that’s exactly what you are doing. And who wants to listen to someone who shouts at you or takes your stuff away?
This power struggle tends to wear you and your child down and leads to defensiveness and resentment on both your parts. Neither one of you likes being around people who shout, point out your faults and try to control you, so it’s no wonder you would both dig your heals in.
And so, you’re stuck in this never-ending cycle. The resentment grows and the pressure mounts until one (or both) of you explode and the relationship breaks down. Soon threatening is the only tool you have left for getting your child to listen.
It’s a pretty exhausting place to be isn’t it?
So how does this cycle start?
When you ask your child to turn off the T.V and go for a bath, it might seem like he’s pretending he didn’t hear you.
When your child lashes out at her brother, or hits and kicks, it might seem like she knows better, and she’s just being naughty.
But the truth is your children are often busy, engrossed in their play, or simply acting their age and using the skills they have in the moment. Why won’t my child behave?
When our children behave like children, we often flip out because we assume they are being disrespectful, defiant or stubborn. Then we shout and punish to change their behaviour. This leaves our children feeling powerless, misunderstood and blamed. No wonder behaviour gets worse (on both parts).
When your child says NO! or acts in a way you don’t like, it’s often taken on as a battle.
How often do you reply with the following when you hear a NO! from your child?
“Well, if you don’t come here right now, that’s it! No screens!” (threat, punishment)
“It’s just like you! You’re so lazy, I just can’t count on you for anything!” (putdown, label)
“Well, I just guess I have to do everything around here. I do so much for you, and this is what I get? ” (guilt)
“If you’d just stopped and done as I told you, then I wouldn’t have to punish you. How many times do I have to tell you?” (blame)
The problem is that the more you use threats and put downs or lay on guilt trips when asking your children to listen to you, the harder and harder it becomes to get your kids to listen willingly and the more shouting and controlling you’ll have to do to get them to listen.
Soon you’ll just have to open your mouth and your child will already be predicting a threat. “AHGG what does she want now? What have I done wrong now?!” will be the first thoughts that go through your child’s mind. Not thoughts that get you willing cooperation, are they?
It’s this that pushes your child into feeling controlled and defensive and encourages more of the behaviour you don’t like…
It doesn’t mean you give up and let your child do what they WANT. “No” is just the beginning of communication to find a way to meet your needs and your child’s.
What you’re aiming for is to communicate your wants and at the same time validate what your child wants.
We always get into problems when we try to get someone to change their likes and wants.
How to get your child to do what you ask the first time.
The magic of Language of Listening® is that your child doesn’t have to give up what they WANT, to do as you ask. It’s all about finding another way for them to get what they want or need that is within your boundary.
Using SAY WHAT YOU SEE® allows you to step into your child’s world. It helps you keep your expectations in check when you can look at your child’s behaviour and say ‘of course’:
Of course, he doesn’t want to leave the playground. Of course, she doesn’t want to stop playing and go for a bath. Of course, he doesn’t want to go to bed. Of course, she’s upset; her brother is annoying her.
When you SAY WHAT YOU SEE® you’re responding to your child’s reality first and then your own. It doesn’t mean they don’t have to do as you ask; it just means they are ‘right’ for what they want.
What to do when your child refuses to do what you ask. And how to get more of the behaviour you want.
First, SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to help your child feel heard and understood. This step helps you skip the typical adult response of telling him what he ‘should’ be doing or that he is ‘wrong’ for what he wants, and, instead, it helps you understand why he wants what he wants…of course!
The next two steps are all about guiding your child towards the behaviour you’d prefer to see:
When you see something you LIKE, you point out a STRENGTH. Strengths help your child see their greatness and gain confidence in their abilities.
When you see something you DON’T LIKE, you offer a CAN DO. Can do’s (within your boundary) help you gain willing cooperation and help your child gain problem solving skills.
Let’s walk through a typical example many of us find ourselves in – Bath time.
The best way to get your child to listen is to first get on her side. To show that you understand her perspective you might say:
“You’re in the middle of playing, it looks fun. It’s hard to stop playing, AND it’s bath time. There must be something you CAN DO to have fun AND come for a bath.”
Can you see in this statement above there is no judgment? It starts with a neutral observation of what is happening.
Your child is ‘right’ for wanting to play, you’re letting her know that it’s hard to stop playing, and you are still holding your boundary while supporting her to find solutions.
Your child feels heard and validated, and she doesn’t have to give up what she wants (in this case, to have fun) to do as you ask.
When you pause a moment and give your child a chance to comply, this gives you the opportunity to point out her STRENGTH. “You found a way to make it work. You’re a problem-solver.” Or “That took self-control to stop playing and come for a bath.”
Your child’s behaviour is guided by her STRENGTHs. This is what impacts her future behaviour. So, when she sees herself as having the strengths you just pointed out to her, she will go and show you all the other ways she has those strengths.
Want more examples of just what to say to gain willing cooperation? Check out my free eCourse. I’ll take you from wild kids to listeners’ in a few days. Click here to sign up
However, if your child continues to ignore you, it may be a warning that her needs for power and connection are extra high. Not listening and power struggles are almost always about the need for power and connection.
In Language of Listening® we look beneath the behaviour to see the three basic needs for growth.
EXPERIENCE: Mastery of the physical body through experiential and sensory exploration;
CONNECTION: Feeling noticed, understood, validated, loved and having a sense of importance and belonging;
POWER: Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.
So, instead of wondering how to change your child’s behaviour, the question becomes how to help your child meet their needs in a way that you do like so they can change their own behaviour.
What does helping a child meet their needs look like in a child’s life?
How can you help him meet his need for EXPERIENCE in a way you DO like?
Does he have plenty of time to play, explore, move his body?
How can you help her meet her need for CONNECTION in a way you DO like?
Does she have plenty of your undivided attention? Does she feel like she matters to you and that what she wants matters to you? Or is too much time spent telling her off or telling her what to do?
How can you help him meet his need for POWER in a way you DO like?
Does he feel confident and that he gets things ‘right’? Are you using STRENGTHs to point out his greatness? Does he get to make any decisions and have appropriate choices over his life? Can he find CAN DOs and solutions to problems?
I’ve realised that 90% of the time when my children don’t listen, it’s not defiance. I don’t need to go in all guns-a-blazing to get them to comply. They want to be cooperative and do what I ask, so when they don’t respond, more often than not, they are too absorbed in what they are doing and haven’t fully heard my request. Or it’s a big red flag that I need stop the power struggling and connect.
It’s in a child’s nature to have their own agenda, but rather than go into battle, this is simply another chance for us to meet our child where they are, validate their wants and help them find solutions.