It has been an emotional week in the world of Smiley. In my personal life, I’ve been waving goodbye to our beautiful family home of 38 years. This much needed move has been such a long time coming but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s been sad and weird but also peppered with lovely moments like  inheriting old family furniture and wading through old childhood certificates and school books. I think big change after a long time can be scary even though we know that everything must come to an end 🙁

Business-wise, I had a mammoth response to my latest blog post with almost 8,000 views on Facebook.  That was shortly followed by the cheese sandwich story to stop children worrying about monsters under the bed which had 18 likes.  How exciting! I love Facebook as a great way to share parenting wisdom or rant amongst the little parenting community I’ve created. By the way, I show up there every Wednesday at 2pm with my Dear Smiley slot where I anonymously answer your questions about family life. That is how this blog post came about: from this quote that I saw on Facebook this week. What do you make of it?

“If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.” — Walter Barbee

I can’t imagine why but this is the very thing which drives Mums insane. Actually, I’m joking. I can remember when I was a nanny crying in the toilet because the toddler I was looking after didn’t listen to me and I didn’t want him to wake his baby brother up. I was avoiding a power struggle as this little boy had an iron will and I could feel myself reaching boiling point.

Power Play – Pick Your Battles

When you get into power play with your child, they are usually coming from a place of integrity and think they know what is best for them. This type of child likes to have some control – so give them choices instead of orders and allow them to do some things for themselves. So if they refuse to wear a certain item of clothing, tell them: ‘We can pack it in my bag just in case.’ It’s about picking your battles and being able to remain calm when they push your buttons….and they will 🙂

Notice when you are locked into a situation with your child when you want to win or be right. This says more about you than it does about your child. Sometimes it’s not necessary for you to be right or win. It can be more explosive if you insist on having your say when your child does not want to listen (See point no 2 below). Being forceful in that way creates resistance and there is no win/win situation.

Spirited or Strong Willed Children Make Good Leaders

You want your child to have strong will.  To know their own mind and to be clear about what they want. They need this to make their way in the world. You know they won’t be a push over, nor will they succumb to peer pressure or do anything that doesn’t feel right to them. This value of integrity is great, but it becomes a real challenge when you are this child’s parent (you may even call them difficult or stubborn. I call them Wildhearts).

“If you want your child to take you seriously, say your words once.  Only once.  If you say it more than once, you’re implying, “I think you’re so stupid that you’re not going to get it the first time, so let me tell you again.”  — Dr. Kevin Leman (author of Have a New Kid by Friday)

One lady shares her story here of how when she told her children this very insightful statement and shared her expectations, she didn’t have to repeat herself again. Wow – try it! If you think that’s unbelievable, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. I also came up with 3 other reasons why your child doesn’t do what you ask of them which means you resort to nagging and nobody wins.

1.  They are children

I hate to point out the obvious (as that would be patronising and irritating wouldn’t it?) but I think we sometimes forget that they are children and sometimes we may expect too much of them.  However, children have a lovely way of :

  • being in the moment more-so than adults who are mulling over what’s happened or thinking about what’s coming next
  • forgetting what you told them 5 minutes ago – this may be a delay tactic but it may also be because they genuinely are not focused on what you want them to do and they are more interested in playing or watching TV or doing what they are doing. I think we are less likely to remember things we are told if we don’t think they directly concern us.
  • having different approaches.  I saw a wonderful cartoon the other day (would you believe it I can’t locate the picture right now) which showed a child with a cup of coffee from a child’s perspective and from an adult’s perspective.  The child had knocked the coffee over and the parent was thinking ‘Urrrrggh, why are you making a mess when I’ve told you 100 times before to be careful with drinks.’  The child was looking at the coffee cup with playful curiosity that said ‘Oooooh I wonder what is in here and what happens when I tilt it upside down. What’s all this brown stuff coming out?!!’

2.  They are not listening

This is a well-known argument starter in households. After all,  nobody likes being ignored.  I even wrote a blog post about how not listening can create all kinds of bad feeling: anger being the most common.  What is useful in this situation is to go to your child and make sure they are looking at you and engaged before you ask them. Don’t shout from another room and just get louder and louder hoping they will hear. I’m laughing as I type this because I’ve done it myself.

Sometimes using less words helps children focus on what you are asking. ‘Homework Time!’ instead of a big long spiel about what the evening entails. After a full on day at school, they may zone out and stop listening.

Can You Put Yourself In Their Shoes?

How good are you at showing empathy? As ever, validating feelings and trying to understand how it might be for them will help. As will monitoring and regulating your own thoughts and feelings.

Children who feel disrespected are less likely to listen to you. Treat your child how you would like to be treated. Even if you think it’s silly they are crying about something they’ve lost or broken, show them compassion and empathy.  Name their feelings and say you understand what that is like. Tell them you want to make it better but you don’t know how. This can be difficult when you are short of time or they are testing your patience by not listening.

3. They Are Disconnected From You

Without connection it’s hard to parent.  Find ways to emotionally reconnect with your child that communicate: ‘This is your safe place.’ A child who feels separation from a parent – whether that is because they’ve been at school all day and away from you or because they have some big bad feelings they need to let out and there is nobody there to help them, is an unhappy child. An unhappy child is more likely to behave in ways which are frustrating and non compliant. There are also other reasons your child may be unhappy like hunger or tiredness.

There are lots of ways to reconnect with your child and it’s important that you do this as often as possible. Their love tank needs topping up. Find out how you can do this for your child by reading more about love languages  – how you can love your child in the way they like to be loved. It is advisable to keep distractions to a minimum while you reconnect. So phones and other screens off.  Focus your attention on your children and their mood.  See what they need and be interested in what they have to say.

It’s a misconception that connection means spending hours and hours of doing fun things together and having expensive outings. I saw a Dad and his son connecting before they said goodbye last Sunday. They wrapped their little fingers around each other. We used to call this a pinky promise when I was at school and this was completed with eye contact and a huge smile. So lovely!

Create Daily Rituals + Provide Security

Routine that contains repeated acts of emotional connection (some of these you may do without thinking) will reinforce a secure and loving environment. For example, saying goodbye and hello is a basic way to connect.  Here are some others:

  • A story before bedtime
  • Physical games or tickling and throwing them about helps them to release their pent up emotions
  • Snuggling with them just because you can
  • Taking an interest in something you know they love that you don’t particularly love or understand (I have to say Minecraft is way over my head!)
  • Doing a favourite activity together like baking or gardening or painting
  • Singing your special song whilst you brush your teeth
  • Having a special saying or word that only you know what it means

Remove Yourself From The Obedience Trap

Parenting has moved on now from punishment and reward.  It’s more about setting limits and natural consequences. It’s about empathy and understanding.  It’s about support and encouragement.  The time for the obedient children has passed as we have discovered that children parented in this way struggle to think for themselves as they are used to following orders. Also if somebody was barking orders at you all the time, like a boss or a co-worker, would you want to do what they were asking? I know I certainly wouldn’t.

‘Strong-willed kids aren’t just being difficult. They feel their integrity is compromised if they’re forced to submit to another person’s will. If they’re allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I’d ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience.  Morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.’ — Dr Laura Markham

If you found this article and you want to dive deeper into a different way of parenting, sign up for my free ebook ‘What every Child Wants Every Parent to Know.’ It’s a good place to start.

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