Before we become parents, we all imagine what our child will be like. But what happens when the reality of child rearing turns out to be a nightmare?
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Ah, children. They bring us so much joy, laughter and love. We cannot imagine our lives without them; we would do anything to support them, and we would give our lives to protect them. But… my god do they frustrate us at times. Were they only put onto this earth to take us to the edge of sanity?!
If you think back to your own childhood, as much as you might not like to admit it, I can guarantee you will be able to think of times when you were no angel (I know I can). I remember being told ‘no’ to something I wanted to do, and stomping up the stairs in frustration, followed by a loud BANG of my bedroom door – to ensure I had disruptively displayed my annoyance to all (and that’s probably far from the worst thing I did!). Kids will always have their own opinions and feelings about things, and they will sometimes differ from yours; after all, people are not robots, and children are no different. The important thing to remember is that disagreements are normal; every family will have them and there is nothing you can do about it. I strongly believe that raising spirited children who have a strong will and opinion is a great thing for this world: who knows, you may be raising the next great politician or leader. But, when things become heated frequently, and your child doesn’t appear to respect any of the things you ask them, you have a severe problem on your hands. So what can we do to solve it?
I do believe it is first important to consider that a behaviour ‘problem’ does stem in part from the ‘expectation’. That is, different parents have different expectations of what their children should and shouldn’t be doing, which affects what is considered a problem in each family. For example, your neighbour may believe that children should complete numerous daily chores dictated by the parent, whilst a friend might believe that children deserve payment for chores and they are optional. When a child at home has not completed any chores, for your neighbour this would be seen as a big problem, however your friend may consider that they just didn’t feel like earning any chore money that day and not think twice about it. For this reason, I believe it is a good idea to make sure you have a good understanding of how children typically develop and what they are reasonable capable of doing at their age, and then consider rules and boundaries to suit this.
If, after carefully considering whether your expectations are reasonable, you still find that your child still won’t listen to what you say, then there is certainly something that has to change in your household. I feel very bad for you parents who are in this situation – which is the reason why I started this parenting support blog in the first place. I realise many of my coming suggestions will require you to change and reflect too, which may at first feel like some kind of defeat or ‘giving in’ to your child, but please believe me when I say I have your best interests at heart, as well as those of your children. Sometimes, we all get stuck in unhelpful habits, sometimes without even realising, and I strongly believe you have to be truly open to reflecting on your own behaviours before you can help your child.
Here are my top tips to encouraging your child to listen to you, based on experience from my own career and education, combined with my experiences with my own children:
1. Consider whether you would listen to you. When you ask your children to do something, do you really mean it? Can they see you really mean it? If your children know that you’re probably not going to do anything if they don’t respond, where’s the incentive for them to do it? – heck, if someone asked you to do something you didn’t want to do, in a way that didn’t really feel like it mattered that much anyway, would you be as likely to do it?
But how do I know my child will listen to me at home? You CAN do this, so believe what you say and say what you mean – your children will have more respect for you if they can see you mean business. Think about the tone you use with your children – you are aiming for firm, but kind and tolerant. I do not recommend shouting – in fact this can cause your children to have less respect for you, and to be less likely to listen. The power of your words comes not from your volume, but from the belief that your command will be met, and the confidence that you can deal with the situation if it isn’t.
2. Have clear rules, rewards and consequences in place. OK, so you’ve tested step one, and you mean business! But the kids aren’t playing ball… so what are you going to do? You’re going to make sure your children understand your rules, that’s what! You are going to OWN those rewards and consequences.
So how do I create rules, rewards and consequences at home? Luckily for you, it isn’t as hard as it seems. Designing rules is highly effective when it is done in conjunction with your children, and the same goes for rewards and consequences. Choose a time when you are all relaxed and getting on, and have a chat about what kind of behaviour you like to see, and what behaviour you don’t. Most children can clearly identify what behaviour is right a wrong, and they will know what pushes your buttons. If your children are old enough, have them write down your new ‘house rules’, to give them even more ownership – they will be much more likely to follow them if they have had some say in them. If your child has a particular behaviour issue which occurs frequently, such as not turning off the games console when asked, discuss what your children think would be a fair consequence to their actions. But try to remember, its equally important to recognise the good stuff, so have a reward in place for a positive situation too, such as turning off the console 5 times in a row when asked. Young children often respond well to visual rewards like stickers given on reward charts – there are lots on sale on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=as_li_qf_sp_sr_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=parentpop-21&keywords=reward chart&index=aps&camp=1634&creative=6738&linkCode=ur2&linkId=657c010cc38b74b3828b43da748e13ad.
Bonus tip: if you’re feeling really reflective, have your children tell you what behaviours they would like YOU to change (phone time, anyone?), and what they like to see from you. This may feel uncomfortable, but it sets a great example to your children that nobody is perfect and you can all grow and improve together. You could even encourage your children to check if you’re following the rules by asking something like ‘do you think you are following the rules we made?’ – this encourages them to feel empowered, and to take the rules more seriously.
3. Try to give your child choices. This sounds like strange advice when you want your child to follow your specific rules, but giving children choices helps them feel less helpless in their life. Think about it, most kids are told what to do and when for almost the whole of their day: which school they go to and when, what they’ll eat and when, what time to go to bed… so would it be so surprising to think that sometimes this can really make children feel powerless, which makes them cling to power and control and other ways.
How can I give my child choices at home? Too much choice is very bad for you as a parent – children are notoriously fussy, and often become easily overwhelmed. Instead, aim to give your child 2 choices: no more, no less. But… and this is very important – the 2 choices should both be something that you are happy with. So, for example, your child doesn’t want to get dressed but you want them to get dressed – if you tell them ‘get dressed now’ you are giving them a perceived demand, which activates their desire for control, and they will likely say no. Instead, you could try picking out two outfits that you are happy with and ask them ‘do you want to wear the green dress or the blue dress?’. Perception of choice is very important here – your child will feel as though they have a choice, but ultimately your goal has been met – they are getting dressed.
4: Try to think about how you ask children to do things. I have already touched on the tone you use, which is really important to how your child perceives your request. However, there is another really important aspect of how you ask your children to do things – the way you phrase your questions or demands. The phrasing can make all the difference between compliance, or not.
So how can I ask my child questions in a way that will make them listen to me at home? When you ask your child a question, try to make sure you don’t give them any choice to ignore you in the way you ask them. For example, let’s consider that you want your child to brush their teeth – you go to them and say ‘can you brush your teeth now please?’ because you have great intentions of being polite and cheery. But this question phrasing invites your child to say no! Consider instead saying ‘brush your teeth now, thank you’. The lack of question does not invite an answer, and saying thank you instead of please switches the phrasing from ‘begging’, to implying to believe they are going to comply (people normally say thank you after something has been completed).
5: Try to be consistent with what you say and do. Children can become confused when you sometimes let them do something, then the next day you’re saying they can’t. Try to aim for consistency, even when you’re feeling tired or irritated. When children are clear that the outcome will always be the same, they feel safe and will be more likely to accept the boundaries in place.
So how can I be consistent at home? Let’s consider that your child likes to take lots of snacks out of the cupboard, and this irritates you. On Monday, you shout at your child and tell them to stop, but on Tuesday, you huff and mumble under your breath, and say nothing. Your child eventually learns from this that his behaviour may work and it is worth the risk of taking the snacks. Instead, stick to your guns; ensure your child is aware of the rules, give them a warning and a chance to change their behaviour (see below) and then implement the consequence.
6: Don’t expect instant responses to your requests. When children are faced with a request they often take a little time to respond, but especially when the request is something they don’t really want to do. Sometimes, children need a short period of time to get used to the idea.
How do I give my child time to respond at home? If you find it frustrating when your child doesn’t do what you say straight away, this can be quite challenging for parents. I would suggest that you give your request (following the above tips), and then if your child starts to argue or complain, walk away. This de escalates the situation, and doesn’t give your child a chance to wind you up. Even if you don’t leave the room, don’t get into a battle or debate – this devalues your request and gives your child a believe you might back down. I think of it like this: get in, give the request, get out (calmly). If your child has not complied when you give them time, give them a specific deadline, such as ‘you have until I have brushed my teeth to get dressed’. If they don’t comply, then it is time for a consequence.
A few final words: Pick your battles – work on the behaviours that are the most important first. Be persistent – change takes time! And believe in yourself, you CAN succeed, and so can your children.
There is just a handful of my top tips – I have loads more, but I don’t want to overwhelm (or bore) you! I really hope they help you – let me know how you get on. Remember, you can do this!
Love, Heather x
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