If you are anything like me, and if your kids are anything like mine, you may be presented with multiple situations every day where you are feeling exasperated.
You are nagging and repeating and yelling, your kids aren’t listening, you don’t know why the f*ck they won’t just do what you tell them to do, and you are at your wits end.
Sometimes kids are going to test us. It’s what they do.
But many times, kids aren’t listening and are talking back because, well, because we’ve allowed it. We may have even unknowingly encouraged it.
We don’t mean to do it. We don’t realize we are doing it.
But we are doing it.
So what can we do differently?
Here are things you may be doing to make your life as a parent more difficult, and three changes you can make that will help.
The other day I asked readers which of their kids’ behaviors they find most challenging. One of the biggest ones?
When they don’t listen to me.
I get it. This is a big one for me, too. It seriously pisses me off when I ask my kids to do something and they either completely ignore me or they say, I’ll do it in a minute. Of course the minute comes and goes, and they still haven’t done whatever it is I asked them to do. Then I’m telling them again, only a little bit louder. The cycle repeats itself until I’m a fucking maniac. Then the kids say to themselves, Okay, Mom just lost her shit. I guess I better do it now.
What we often don’t realize, is that when we say our kids aren’t listening, what we really mean is they aren’t obeying.
And when they aren’t obeying, we are now in a power struggle.
Power struggles suck. Because no one really wins.
If your kids are doing what you demand of them, they most likely aren’t doing it due to internal motivation. They are doing it out of fear that they’ll be punished, or because they are becoming approval junkies who only feel good about themselves when they are getting praise (or rewards) from other people.
If your kids aren’t doing what you demand of them, that’s when you lose it. And when you lose it, you have lost your control, and your kids really haven’t learned much of anything.
If this method worked, we wouldn’t have to lose our shit! Our kids would be doing what we asked them to do without needing a hundred reminders.
We think we are teaching them to be internally motivated, but we aren’t. We are doing the opposite. We are teaching them to do things only when they are told to. And we are teaching them that they don’t really have to do anything until we go ballistic.
It’s not helping the kids to be proactive, and it’s definitely not helping our blood pressure.
But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time.
What can you do to change it?
Instead of telling, start asking.
Instead of saying, GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH, try this:
What do you need to do so your teeth will feel squeaky clean?
I know. Who the hell says that? Your kids might look at you like, what the hell happened to Mom?
But I can tell you that it works. Instead of barking orders at your kids, it gets them to start thinking for themselves.
Using these kinds of curiosity questions have made a HUGE difference in our morning routine. Simply by changing how I speak to my kids, I have almost completely eliminated the nagging and repeated demands.
And this is with a 5, 6 and 7 -year-old.
A few months ago, I was saying Go brush your teeth! Get dressed! Where are you shoes! WHY AREN’T YOU DRESSED YET??? on a continuous loop.
I knew my kids knew what to do in the morning, but they weren’t fucking doing it!
It was exhausting and infuriating.
And then, I changed my approach.
Because you know what they say about the definition of insanity…
I didn’t threaten. I didn’t yell, I didn’t have to bribe them with rewards.
I simply said, “What do you need to do in order to be ready to go to school?”
I am telling you, the difference in their behavior was drastic.
And now Number 6, my six-year-old who was the worst offender in the morning, will run upstairs, brush his teeth, get dressed, come downstairs and put his shoes on, and then jump in front of me like TA-DAAAAH!!!! MOM! LOOK! I’M READY!!!”
I’m not kidding.
It’s a whole different experience in the morning.
Of course we have mornings where things are still a shit show, but they are nothing like they used to be.
For the most part, they run very smoothly and I don’t have to have a nervous breakdown every day in order to get the kids out the door and onto the bus.
2. Responding To Back Talk With Back Talk
Back talk. It’s maddening. Why the hell are kids so disrespectful?
It could be because they had a bad day or they are tired.
I know I’ve been known to snap at my husband or my kids when I’m stressed and exhausted.
But it could be because of something else.
We think we’ve taught them better.
But maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve been modeling the exact behavior we detest so much.
Maybe we haven’t taught our kids how to interact respectfully.
How many times have you replied to back talk with something along the lines of Go to your room and don’t come out until you can be respectful!
What if instead of firing back with something hurtful or disrespectful, you simply said, Wow! You are really angry!
I don’t know about you, but more than once, I have said something along the lines of How can you talk to me that way after everything I do for you? You would never talk to your teacher that way!!!
What if, instead, you replied to back talk with something like, I need to take a time out until I can be with you respectfully.
Doesn’t that reply model the exact response you would hope to get from your kids?
The next time your kid talks back to you, pay attention to how you respond.
You may be contributing to the problem without realizing it.
I didn’t realize how much I did this. I do it a lot.
I’m working on it, and it’s hard! But the less I talk back to my kids, the less they talk back to me.
3. Having total control over all decisions
Sometimes your kids give you a hard time because they want to have some control. And that’s not unreasonable.
I know how I would feel if someone told me exactly what I had to wear, what I was allowed to eat, and exactly when I had to do things all day, every day.
When kids feel empowered, they are much more likely to cooperate.
So when appropriate, offer limited choices. The key words here are appropriate and limited!
You’re not going to give your kid the option to not buckle his seat belt or brush his teeth.
But what if instead of saying Go brush your teeth and put your pajamas on! you said, What do you want to do first? Brush your teeth, or put on your pajamas?
I know. There is a chance your kids will reply with Neither!
But kids do often respond much differently to this approach.
And adding in you decide at the end of the choice is even more empowering for kids. And that is something they are often looking for. Empowerment.
Not doing homework isn’t an option for many of us.
But this approach — Do you want to do your homework before you have snack or after you have snack? You decide. — gives your kid some control over the decisions that affect him.
This simple sentence and limited choice has cut down big time on homework headaches and arguments here in my house.
And it has also seriously cut down on the number of power struggles with my very determined and opinionated five-year-old.
If you have found yourself in the same situation, think about some scenarios where you would be willing to let your child have limited choices. The next time you are faced with an issue, you’ll be armed with a different (and more effective) approach. I’m sure of it.
As a certified Positive Discipline educator, and as a mom who is right there with you in the trenches, I can tell you with certainty that these approaches are changing not only my kids’ behavior, but also my relationship with them.
If you are looking for more information on this parenting approach, check out the books below (which I own, use, and highly recommend) and stay tuned for information on upcoming online courses I’m developing!
Because momming is fucking hard.
This doesn’t make it easy.
But it definitely makes it less hard.
And who doesn’t want that?