Empathize with your child’s experience, both when you’re giving a directive and as often as you can. That rebuilds the connection and helps them learn to obey. Be prepared for any upset feelings to surface once your child feels that warm connection more strongly, and stay compassionate through the resulting meltdown. After he’s had a chance to “show” you the upset that’s been weighing on him, your child will feel re-connected and cooperative.
7. They’ve given up on us.
Children naturally look to their parents for nurturing and guidance. If they’re convinced that we’re on their side, they want to please us. So if your child is defiant, or you keep finding yourself in power struggles, that’s a red flag that your relationship needs strengthening.
Half an hour of Special Time, one-on-one, daily. This seems so simple that most parents underestimate the impact. But I have never seen special time fail. It’s a tangible expression of your love, your willingness to put your child first and adore her.
Laughter also bonds you with your child, and roughhousing is usually the easiest way to get laughter going. Every child needs belly laughs and giggling both morning and evening to stay connected. When a relationship feels tense, laughter is often the easiest way back to connection.
8. They’re human.
Force creates push-back. All humans resist control, and kids are no different. The more they feel “pushed around” the more strong-willed kids rebel and choose not to obey, and the more compliant kids lose initiative and the ability to stand up for themselves.
Choose your battles. Make sure your child knows you’re on her side and she has some choices. Coach your child rather than trying to control her. Teaching a child self-discipline raises a child who can think for herself, stand up for what’s right, and isn’t likely to be taken advantage of.
Discussions about whether kids are spoiled always indict parents for raising kids who aren’t obedient, as if obedience is the holy grail to which parents should aspire. But don’t you want to raise a child who’s self-disciplined and WANTS to cooperate? That’s very different from obedience, where the discipline comes from outside the child. As H.L. Mencken said,
“Morality is doing what’s right no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told no matter what’s right.”
The Kolbert quote above is taken from an article that doesn’t mention any of these reasons. Instead, Kolbert says kids ignore parents because “Parents want their kids’ approval” and “worry that we’re going to damage…kids by frustrating them.” This accusation surfaces in every discussion alleging that kids today are spoiled. But I just don’t buy it. The man who picked his eight year old up and put him in the bathroom wasn’t afraid to set a limit because he wanted his son’s approval. It looks to me like his son didn’t follow his directives because the dad didn’t follow through on his limit. He had trained his child to ignore him. And he most likely finished the evening with screaming or walloping, which decrease the child’s respect and connection, and therefore decrease future cooperation.
Does setting empathic limits sound like a lot of work? It is, in the beginning. It would certainly be easier if kids would immediately comply and obey our every directive. But the good news is that following these practices consistently not only raises a self-disciplined child, it raises a child who knows you’ll follow through, so he doesn’t need to be asked five times to do something. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get him into the bathtub.
This post originally appeared at Aha! Parenting, published with permission.