What can we do as parents when we stand face to face with a child whose agenda differs from ours.. if not giving them at threat?
The threats we give our children in those moments, are tempting and a habitual way of navigating our own powerlessness in the face of conflicting agendas with our child. When ‘being nice’ doesn’t work, it is tempting to assert our power by giving ultimatums;
Unless you do as I say – things you care about will be taken away
We can ask for cooperation in this way for years until, often by adolescence, it can feel like we’ve run out of rope. Our teen answers back, defies us or shows contempt for how we relate to them, and it can feel as though we’ve missed the boat.
But the good news is – it’s never too late to change
Let me share with you 3 things I return to whenever autopilot threatens to take over in my parenting:
- Be mindful of your tone
Children respond to our tone, much more so than what we actually say. Our tone reflects our feelings and attitude towards them and is what can powerfully determine our child’s willingness to cooperate with us.
The aim is never to sugar coat your message. A good tone is clear, yet warm and friendly.
- Clear is kind
In a bid to be nice, we often ask our child a question, when the intention is for them to follow an instruction.
“Can you pop this back in the kitchen?”
“Can you get dressed for me?”
“Shall we go for a walk?”
This places the power with our child, and frustrates us endlessly when we are met with a ‘no’.
In a friendly tone, try instead saying what it is you actually want;
“I’d like you to take this back to the kitchen. (Thank you my love)”
“Let’s get dressed”
“We are going to go for a walk”
The clearer we are, the more of an impression we make. And by saying ‘I’ instead of ‘mummy / daddy’ we are able to better connect with what we say in a way that feels a lot more authentic. When we are congruent – we are the most impactful.
- If motivation is low, add; Help, play, choice or connection
Yet, if it were that easy, we would not be reading this.
The fact is, that children often meet what we say with a ‘no’ or ‘wait’ or ‘in a minute’, irrespective of how respectfully and beautifully we’ve stated our our request.
It helps you to keep a cool head and warm heart to remember that children’s brains are wired for pleasure. The part of their brain that enables the overriding of pleasure (the frontal lobes), are not fully formed until adulthood and can make it very difficult to transition from something enjoyable to a less fun activity.
Watching TV – to washing hands before dinner
Playing in the park – to going in the car in order to go home.
Therefore, rather than a threat, add what helps your child to make this transition more easily:
HELP – PLAY – CHOICE – CONNECTION
Simply sit with your child for a minute before it’s time to switch off their device. Take interest in what they are doing, and go with, rather than going against.
Connect before you direct.
“Can you turn it off, or shall I do it today?”
This gives your child a sense of autonomy and is a non-threatening way of moving from words to action
“I can see it’s hard for you to do it… so I’ll help you turn it off”
And yes, this will perhaps lead to tears. But you have taken care of your own annoyance by not giving 10 warnings, and can trust that you’ve been clear and respectful, even if your child is upset.
Using conflict de-escalating words like; ‘help’, reminds both you and your child that your child is not doing this TO you, and that you are there to help your child cooperate.
“I bet you can beat me to the door”
Where possible, add a sense of play to such situations.
Whether you decide to turn tidying up into a game or having your child ride on your back up to the bathroom, -when we add a sense of play when motivation is low, cooperation becomes so much easier for your child.
Remember, not all 4 things are necessarily needed in every situation. But the more we can remember the fundamental differences between how our brain works, and how our child’s brain is wired, the better we become at handling situations in helpful ways that would have otherwise led to power struggles or the use of threats and ultimatums.