Recently we received this question from Michelle:
I am struggling with a tween who often says no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time, but she will be disrespectful to me and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc. I try to remain calm but when I tell her this is a warning and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “oh well, no big deal” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior but she can not say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.
Great question. This can be a bit of a challenge for parents, especially if they have been taught to focus on immediate obedience. It’s like we’ve been trained when kids say “No!” to react with consequences for gaining swift obedience. That “default setting” has to be unlearned and replaced in order to teach your kids wisdom and respect at times like this. (You can read more about that here.)
We suggest replacing the goal of immediate obedience with the goal of earning your child’s respect rather than forcing it. With this goal in mind you can take a deep breath when your daughter says, “No!” You can wonder if the way you asked may have felt condescending to her. You can pray to embody God’s grace and for her to receive it. You can calmly observe what you see and ask truly curious questions — “What’s behind that no? Is there some help you need to get started (with chores/homework/etc)?” The more you do this sort of thing the more your daughter will perceive you as her ally, not her enemy.
Then, outside of these encounters, take some time when you pray with her, or when all is well, to do some empathizing and problem solving — not in a judging way, but in a curious way: “So honey, it seems like it’s hard for you to put that book down sometimes.” (She’ll probably start to bristle, anticipating a lecture. This is then your great opportunity to let her know you understand her and aren’t going to lecture her). “I get it. It’s hard for me to shift gears into responsibilities when I’m reading (watching, or otherwise engaged in something I enjoy). What are your ideas about how we could work together better when you’re reading?”
These are a couple brief ideas. We’ve written much about this sort of thing and invite you to dig around our website. Check out some of our posts about obedience or respect. And go to our online store and get the book “Discipline that Connects.” We wrote it for parents just like you!