Picture this: You are just about to leave the house and have an appointment to get to. Just as you are about to sweep up your child and usher them out the door they decide to be stubborn and play with their toys instead. Your conversation goes something like this.
Parent – “Come on sweetie, we need to go. Can you please put your toys away?”(calmly)
Child – Continues to play, ignoring your request
Parent – “Quick we are going to be late! Please put your toys away and let’s go”(pleading)
Child – “I don’t want to go. I want to play”
Parent – “Put your toys down right NOW otherwise it’s no TV for a week!” (frustrated)
Child puts toys down and sulkily heads to the door. Parent grabs their hand in silence and heads out the door quickly.
How familiar does this sound? I don’t have a child old enough to have done this myself but I’ve definitely been around enough children through teaching to say I’ve been in this position many, many times and I’ve reacted this way sometimes myself.
When I look at the above scenario I think about the stress levels that are rising in the parent, the frustration of wanting to get out the door and a child that refuses to budge. It might not be a big deal when it happens once, but when this dialogue takes place many times a day you can see how it would take its toll on anyone. You end up feeling angry, resentful and downright tired having to keep this up all day long. Then there’s the child – To them this becomes the ‘norm’ and this is how we do things in our house. Mummy or Daddy yell or get angry with me when I don’t do what they ask.
There’s a way to switch this around though. It’s all about changing your mindset to a positive one. Life is too short to spend three quarters of it yelling, pleading and forcing. I stress, that every child is different and some may not respond to positive talk as quickly as others but if you give it a try, persist with it…your conversation might start to sound more like this:
Parent – “Come on sweetie, we need to go. Can you please put your toys away?” (calmly)
Child – Continues to play, ignoring your request.
Parent – “Pop your toys away otherwise we will be late and then we won’t have time to go to the park afterwards”
Child puts toys down and heads to the door
Parent – “Well done for being such a good listener and popping your toys away so quickly! What do you want to do at the park?”
You might think that sounds like bribery, but you are indirectly rewarding and praising your child for responding quickly. There is no frustration levels rising here and the child responds with ease. You can duplicate this kind of positive talk in situations like bed time, toilet training, getting dressed and more. In fact the more you do it the easier it becomes, positive talk starts to become second nature and your child learns to respond to it.
Here’s some other tips to get a ‘win’ calmly and easily:
- When you see your child doing the right thing, let them know! A simple “I really like it when you do what I ask the first time” can do wonders.
- Have a reward system in your house. Depending on their age it can be a simple chart drawn up or if they are too young for charts, all you need is a few marbles and a jar. Every time you tell your child they have done the right thing have them pop a marble in the jar. When the jar is full they receive a reward. The younger they are the smaller the jar should be as younger children need more instant gratification. They might fill it daily and get to do one thing they enjoy – play outside, do some art, or watch their favourite TV show.
- Explain. Tell your child WHY it is important they do as you ask. “You need to brush your teeth because otherwise your teeth can get holes in them and you might need to go to the dentist”
- Make eye contact, smile and keep that smile in your voice. Children can tell when you are anxious and they will test that. Keep your talk ‘light’ and you might find they will respond a lot better than you expect.
Will it work every time? It might not and you may need to try other ways. But it sure beats pleading, shouting and feeling frustrations rise all day long. And your child will benefit too, by seeing the love you give them, by having a model that is patient, generous, caring and relaxed. The connection with your child will be unbreakable and will involve a lot less nagging, punishment and resistance.