Most parents would agree, a child who won’t listen can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when you are trying to teach them right from wrong. How can they learn to behave if they won’t listen?
When parents complain to me that their children ‘never listen’, my usual response is a slightly cheeky, ‘Well then, stop talking so much.’ Having someone lecture at you can be very annoying, whether you are a child or an adult, so kids learn to turn off their ears and brains in response, or, worse, they defiantly rebel.
In amongst the lecturing, the frustrated parent commonly asks, ‘Why?’ “Why did you throw that rock?” “Why did you put peas up your nose?” “Why did you jump up and down on the bed until it broke?” “Don’t just shrug. Look at me! Why aren’t you listening to me?!”
I have a why question. Why do so many adults feel compelled to ask children why questions? Be honest, when was the last time you knew the answer to your own why questions after doing something silly? “Why did you have that extra drink last night?” “Why did you buy those expensive shoes that hurt?” The only honest answer would be, “Well, it seemed a good idea at the time,” or, “Because I wanted to,” or, “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, such honest responses are not likely to appease an angry parent in full-on lecturing mode.
Children Are Not Little Adults
Tom Phelan, author of ‘123 Magic’, stressed that children should not be treated as ‘little adults’; because they are not: they’re kids. A young child is not likely to have great philosophical realisations about good versus evil by being talked at and reasoned with. What they are more likely to do is stop listening and think about something more pleasant, like that new toy they want for Christmas.
They might, if well trained in escape tactics, appease you with an eyes-down, submissive nod, perhaps accompanied by a mumbled apology, and of course, when prompted, promise to never do it again. But more often than not, unless they have an unusually strong urge to please you, they won’t really mean any of it. They are simply trying to cope in that moment. After all, they’re kids.
Lecturing and reasoning with your child as if he is a little adult on your level reduces your power and status in the child’s view. At times the lecturing might create a quietly angry child who will retaliate later, or take their anger out on a younger child. At other times the lectured child might react angrily towards you. They are only responding as they feel a little adult should.
The Angrier You Get…
As a parent it can feel really frustrating to hear your little darling argue back disrespectfully rather than offering the meek apology you’re hoping for. This frustration might lead to an increase the loudness and tone your voice. Then, because your child tends to mimic you, and because you are giving them focused attention for their retaliation, and because your anger has, in their world, given them more justification for being angry, the child gets angrier at you. Then you get angrier in response, and so it goes on. This is called escalation, and it is very common in families.
Be a Calm Assertive Pack Leader
I believe one of the greatest contemporary human psychology experts is dog behaviour expert, Cesar Millan, star of TV’s ‘The Dog Whisperer’. Millan does not believe in reasoning with canines. Instead he stresses to his adult human clients that they can train their out-of-control dogs by becoming strong ‘pack leaders’, and exuding ‘calm, assertive energy’. If a pack leader is calm, confident and assertive, his pack will feel confident that he is looking after them and protecting them from harm, so they feel relaxed, secure and well-adjusted. The pack doesn’t have to challenge the pack-leader’s authority and they don’t feel threatened by the outside world, as long as the pack leader stays relaxed.
‘Calm, assertive energy’ is Milan’s constant mantra; a mantra that I have been encouraging parents of humans to take on for many years.
If you believe that you, as a parent or parents, should own the role of leader in your family [solo as a single parent, or in partnership with another parent in two parent families], and you can get into the calm, assertive mode of a good pack leader and set clear limits for your children, they will automatically feel calmer and more secure, and be much easier to manage.
Millan teaches that a pack leader in the dog world does not talk in response to their charge lings’ misdemeanours. Nor does he react aggressively. He simply corrects the unwanted behaviour, calmly and assertively, then lets the issue go. He doesn’t harp on and on, he doesn’t try to reason, he doesn’t get angry, and he and definitely doesn’t give the unwanted behaviour too much attention. Dogs are so smart.
Human are also social pack animals, and human children thrive on solid adult leadership, and clear boundaries and consequences delivered in a calm, assertive manner. It helps them feel like the world is predictable and simple, and this helps them feel secure. The internalisation and development of adult values comes later.
Calm Clear Consequences
So, when your child is doing something wrong, try not to lecture, or ask why, or get angry in response. Instead, focus on exuding calm assertive energy, and quickly and firmly correct the behaviour, then get back to life. Mild misbehaviour can be corrected by a firm look, or a calm assertive, ‘Hey, that’s enough’, with a moderate to deep voice. More serious misdemeanours can be corrected with clear simple consequences. Thomas Phelan talks about using counting with simple time out consequences his 123 MAGIC series of books and videos. I will talk more about the Phelan system, along with ways to deal with the more out of control child, in separate training articles and video blogs.
It is important to always stay aware of your own emotional response and avoid reverting to anger or fearful submission. Assertive parenting is neither. Assertive parenting is relaxed but strong posture, calm body language, moderate voice tone and loudness, and clear, calm eye-contact. It is brief and to-the-point and very matter-of fact. It is the language expression of a powerful leader who knows she is in charge, so doesn’t have to try too hard.
So, in a nutshell, the keys to managing your child’s behaviour are:
*Remember your child is a child, not an adult
*Project calm and assertive leader energy
*Do not lecture or try to reason with your child
*Don’t ask ‘Why?’ questions
*Do not get angry or argue
*Do not give your child too much attention for not listening or misbehaving
*Stick to clear consistent consequences
And, most importantly, try to lighten up and have some fun with your children. They aren’t children for long, and one day you’ll wish you had.
Good luck with this challenge. I welcome any feedback, questions, or ideas.
Please leave questions or comments in the COMMENTS box below, or email me at Lorri@lorricraig.com. I will try to respond as quickly as possible. For more parenting tips, and for links to Tom Phelan’s brilliant parent training DVDs, check out my parenting site www.ChildTrainingSecrets.com.