Letting Your Child Have The Last Word.
Now that my son is six, he is discovering himself as well as his place in society. As a new student he is meeting new people, learning new rules, and new behaviors, some good and some bad. He is learning to express his feelings and to self advocate. While at home, his self advocating is mostly arguing when given instructions to do something that he does not want to do or after being given feedback.
Arguing is a natural reaction especially when one feels that he or she has been wronged in some way. In my son's case he appears to feel that being instructed to turn off the television during his favorite cartoon is something that he should not be told to do. He also feels that having to do chores or other tasks that he does not want to do is a mistake that he needs to correct by arguing or overreacting to an instruction.
The same applies to feedback, my son chooses to argue about feedback when he feels that he does not need to accept responsibility for his actions. Be it he is only six, he needs to understand that he needs to accept responsibility for his own actions regardless of where he is. It is easy to blame others for his behavior such as a sibling or a peer at school or in some other social setting.
Our resolution was to have him do three things should he choose to argue, not accept feed back and overreact when given instructions and feedback. We make sure he has eye contact with us, he says "yes" when we call his name and that he says "okay" when we give him instructions and feed back. We do this for several reasons. The first is that we know that we have his attention. The second is to ensure that he has stopped what he is doing to listen to what we are telling him and that he is not just responding to us and ignoring the rest of what is being said to him. The third is so that we know that he heard what was told to him and that he is letting us know that he is accepting an instruction to perform a task, controlling his reaction, or accepting feedback.
We know if he was listening if he stops what he is doing, says "yes" to his name being called, answers with an appropriate "OK", and does the task when given an instruction. If he is controlling his reaction he is not crying, pouting, or arguing and his response is simply given in a normal responsive voice. If he is accepting feedback he is not arguing or doing other things while we are talking to him that would distract him hearing what we are saying to him. If he simply responds with an, "okay", we know that he has heard us and that he may actually do what he was instructed to do or has listened to what we have told him.
If he says the word, "okay", we don't have to say anything else to him other than a praise statement for going to do the task or accepting feedback. There are times where he is clearly angry about having to do something that he does not want to do, but he has been doing very well controlling his reaction. By not continuing to speak to him about an instruction or feedback after he has said "okay", he gets the last word for that conversation. Should he choose to do or say anything else we address that specific behavior and then return to the original instruction or feedback.
Getting the last word allows my son to control the conversation so to speak. He can choose to say other things, but if he says "okay" and nothing else he is not going to have to listen to more feedback and more instructions. Some times he may have to practice just saying okay after arguing and overreacting to an instruction or feedback. He understands the value of time and does not want to waste his time having to practice following instructions, accepting feedback, or controlling his reaction.
There are some things that my wife and I have had to learn to do for this process to work. One is that we need to be physically positioned at his level when talking to him. We had to practice not towering over him or yelling from a distance such as across or in another room. We also had to ensure that we were giving him eye contact when he spoke to us and when we were speaking to him. We also had to work on responding to him in the same manner we expect him to respond to us, if we do not practice what we are telling him to do he will be resistant to this process.
We also had to learn how to keep instructions and feedback short and sweet. Lengthy conversations to a child that is not interested in having the conversation is a waste of time. If he wants to watch television and I am trying to talk to him for several minutes about why he should be turning off the television his is going to be doing one of two things watching television or listening to the television. My son also gives me clues that I am talking too much or too long. He starts yawning and he will fidget with his hands. Those I are my cues to wind it up and get to the point.
My wife is a physician and she uses a certain type of grammar when she is working, sometimes she will use language that is beyond our son's comprehension which also makes it hard for him to process information and accept feedback. I do the same thing sometimes, so I need to pay attention to what I am saying as well. Combining lengthy interactions with language beyond a child's comprehension is also very common with not only my wife and I but with many other parents as well. My wife and I have role played many times especially after one or both of us has had an interaction with our son that did not go very well at all. Failed interactions between child an parent usually result in both the parent and the child not controlling their reaction.
We also have to make sure that we are giving one instruction at a time and that we are only discussing one topic when giving feedback. The most important part of any instruction or feedback is that it has to be about him and how not following an instruction or not accepting feedback will affect him. What we tell him cannot be about what we want or what we fell about what it is we are telling him or asking him to do. That is what praise statements are for, they can include how we feel about his actions after we have told him what a good job he has done performing a task or accepting feedback.
Having our son respond to us in a specific manner seems to be working for us, there are still the occasional debates, crying, and pouting, but these are few and far between and tend to happen more often if he is tired and hungry. There are also the times when my wife and I make a mistake and we are wrong about something, accusing him of something he did not do or understand can cause our son to argue. So my wife and I have to be ready to accept responsibility for our mistakes as well. Other positive effects this has had is that he expects other people to respond to him in an appropriate manner and his teachers and other adults are impressed with how he responds and interacts with other people to include other children.