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How to get your kids to listen to you

Updated on May 10, 2012

What to do when kids won't comply

There are 4 words which challenge even the coolest, calmest parent, what are those 4 words?....”You Can't Make Me!”

- and the power behind that statement? Well, it pretty much pushes just about every parent's buttons & is the ultimate in boundary testing because some parents are tempted to become physical at this stage.

So, what to do? Well, the simplest answer is don't get there in the first place. I know, easier said than done, like many things in life, but parenting, like dentistry benefits from early, proactive & preventive interventions. The reason this situation is so hard for most of us to deal with is that it's pretty much a direct challenge, and for parent's in particular it goes right to the heart of the “I am not you” individuation struggle. So, while your first reaction may be to say “look here, you little (fill in the blank), I am the parents and yes I can make you & I can do it physically because I'm bigger than you"

But what is the inevitable result of that? Usually tears and drama on both sides, and very little learned except that people who are bigger than you can resort to physical interventions to control you, and back to the learning by observing – what do most kids get out of that? Several things – yes, the boundary is still there, the parent feels out of control & therefore resorts to physicality, which actually implies that the kid must be very bad indeed to have exhausted the resources of the people who rule the world, their parents, and lastly if someone is smaller than you it's okay to use physicality to get them to do what you want. That's usually what kids get out of power struggles.

Defiant behaviors don't usually come out of the blue, maybe it starts with a little pouty, whiny, an increase in demands and much huffing & puffing. The key is to notice when it starts & intervene then. It's easier to deal with a little pouty whiny than a full blown tantrum. Many parents think if they just ignore the behavior it will go away. Sometimes that works too, but behavior is a request for attention, so why not find out what pouty whiny is about & divert a tantrum. I'm not suggesting giving in to every request whenever there's a storm cloud, just review your priorities, there are not a great many things that will result in worldwide catastrophe. Is it that the kid's request is unreasonable, or that you don't want to do it. Either is okay, just be clear in your own mind. Is this something that, if you were in a good mood you would say yes to? What will really happen if I grant this request. Doing this also shows kids that, by and large you are fairly reasonable and that when you say “No” there must be a pretty good reason for it.

Of course, the basis for this is clear and consistent parenting or co-parenting rules (even more important for those co-parenting kids). The bottom line for every decision has to be “Is this in the best interest of my child?” the other parent (despite what you may feel) is still and always will be their mother/father, it is truly essential that you are cordial to each other and don't disagree in front of the children. Your relationships fall strictly within the adult business category. Think of it this way – your ex arrives, late as usual, hasn't signed whatever paperwork is necessary and has their new love interest in the car. Well the natural reaction would not be pretty, but remember the learn by modeling thing? A perfect example for your child to see how to amicably deal with difficult people, problem solve and reinforce their knowledge that as a parent, regardless of your own feelings, you will always have their best interest at heart. Now that's not a bad message to get from a frustrating situation. It's really not what you say, but what you do that has the single strongest influence on you child and their behaviors.

Taking care of the caretaker

This in itself is an extensive topic, but I just wanted to mention a few strategies to help keep you sane too. Being the parent of a special needs child of any type is stressful, but often parent's of children whose disabilities manifest behaviorally face additional criticism and judgement. They often have to face a barrage of stories about how everyone else (who has never lived with this child) could do so much better - or stories about how the condition doesn't really exist, indicates moral weakness, poor parenting or how it could be cured with a kick up the... and a good spanking.

Mental illness is one of the invisible disabilities which people underestimate, disregard, freely diagnose and feel free to give advice on, whatever their level of expertise. As difficult it is to deal with a special needs child, it is far more difficult to deal with a society which frequently discriminates against those with mental illness. The reason I mention this, is because keeping that in mind can reduce the feeling that it's all about you and somehow your fault, which is, of course essential to your sanity.

Don't allow unsolicited advice, unless you want it. Find any way to say it, but let them know that actually "you da momma" and this is your program for your kid. Your kids need you to be in control and believe in them - and you need to believe in yourself. Create free time for yourself, 5 minutes here and there can actually break the day nicely - but be regular, remember everything you do will be reflected by your kids, so they need to see that you take care of you. Try to cut out people who don't add anything to your life or specifically affect it negatively - you have enough issues, who needs Aunt Gertrude and her opinions if you don't have to. Granted, family can be tricky, but stand your ground. You create your life, you are the only one who can change it - and ever time you take space for yourself, treat yourself to a movie, get a babysitter, call a friend, it shows your child that you really do love them, because they can see you love yourself.

Just like with behavior management, watch yourself, write things down, track your moods - then be proactive and anticipate your most difficult times and schedule in a day off, something nice for yourself - anything - a walk, a bubble bath, breakfast in bed, sleeping late. Then try to catch the behaviors and mood early and intervene immediately, just like with kids. Putting in an extra 5 minutes in the morning to walk in the garden can actually start making a big difference. It's all about knowing yourself, finding your supports (and don't be afraid to use them!), anticipating difficulties and building in rewards.

A good friend of mine recently gave me a great analogy - Each day you are given, say $1000 and each interaction costs a certain amount. Positive interactions add to your balance, stress and negativity subtract, at the end of the day you count you money and review what you've spent and what you've got back. The more positive interactions the more you make - and the more is deposited in your bank for the times when you need it. When you review your day - do you have a positive or negative balance?

Stay tuned for more future hubs with in depth details about how to set up a structured behavior management system, more information about discipline, self care and hints for proactive parenting.

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    • dr c profile image

      dr c 8 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area


      Glad you like it & found something helpful.

    • Susana S profile image

      Susana S 8 years ago

      Thank you for writing this - I love the 1000$ analogy - most days I'm definitely in debt. I'm going to give some thought on how to turn that around.