“How do I get my child to listen?!!”
Listening when you’re addressed by someone is a great life skill, but one that often our children don’t seem too eager to learn! Frustrated parents often say, “I hate it, but I just have to yell, and then they’ll finally listen.” What we’ve learned through decades of coaching parents is that a little connection and creativity goes a long way in helping kids tune in when they hear, “Time for dinner!” or “Pick up your toys, please!”
Here’s a great example of how one of our coaching families overcame barriers to listening. Kristi and Steve had a very challenging 6-year-old daughter. (For older kids, see below.) Sierra was intense about nearly everything. Her extremely bright brain was programmed to hone in on something interesting, and she was not to be deterred. Many times, it was like she was in a sound-proof focus bubble with whatever engaging activity was in front of her.
Kristi and Steve valued Sierra’s intensity because they saw that she was curious about many things and had a voracious desire to learn. But before they began coaching, they didn’t know how to help her, and she got timeouts, a scolding, or loss of privileges for not listening.
“Nooooo, Mommy, Noooooo! Don’t GO!” screams the little fighting octopus fastened to your legs. It can be heart wrenching and embarrassing to pry your child away from you, and inconvenient when you’ve got a time constraint. (Why is my child the only one who gets hysterical every time we try to leave childcare to go to the church service?)
I have coached numerous parents of kids with separation anxiety, and there seems to be patterns of common underlying issues that feed this challenge:
- A child’s sensory sensitivities can make busy or less familiar environments over-stimulating, or just generally increase a child’s anxiety.
- Family stress – A chaotic family schedule or outside source of stress creates insecurity and hinders quality, joy-filled attention from a parent.
- Parents’ anxiety or guilt about their child’s distress during separation inadvertently sends a message expressed through non-verbals that, “You should be upset. I’m doing a terrible thing by leaving you!”
Christmas…Like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While we cherish meaningful time with those dearest to us, these highly charged celebrations often stress parents, over-stimulate children, and incline both to volatile behavior. Seven simple ideas will protect the Joy of the Season, and minimize the likelihood of holiday meltdowns and conflicts. These ideas are anchored in the principle that we all behave better when we feel better! After reading through, choose one or two options that fit your family and focus on them this year.
Anchor the season in perspective.
Christmas is about God’s greatest gift to humans – his son Jesus Christ. This gets all too easily lost in our cultural expression of the holiday. Of all the Christmas preparation, what might not really need to be done? What would it take to build a few extra minutes into each day for rest, prayer, or meditation to delight in the eternal Savior who came to earth to reveal God to us? What’s one simple thing you could do to help your kids enter into this with you? Write your ideas in the comments section to inspire and connect with others!
Sometimes family life can seem like a crazy collision of everyone’s challenges and weaknesses. In our family Jim could get impatient and snippy, Lynne tended to nag, Daniel liked to dominate and demand fairness, Bethany was over-sensitive and cried easily, and Noah sometimes told fibs to avoid conflict. On a bad day it was mayhem! It was easy to get stuck in a negative pattern, making life pretty miserable. But fortunately as we gained insight into what makes for strong, caring families, we learned not to get stuck focusing on our weaknesses.
In this journey there were three important principles we learned.
1.) Each person’s challenge area has a corresponding strength.
Our strengths that corresponded to these weaknesses were:
- Jim was passionate and expressive
- Lynne had good attention to detail and follow-through
- Daniel had a gift of leadership and justice
- Bethany was compassionate
- Noah was easy going
Your little darling comes to you with face lit up, a picture and product details in hand, their logic detailed into a lawyer-like brief, and begs with passion for that one special thing for Christmas. “Ok, I know exactly what I want for Christmas. I’m so excited about it! Taylor is getting one, too.”
This can be a frustrating scenario if you believe the request is either beyond your budget, or not an item you feel will benefit your child. Have you ever found yourself giving in to gift requests when your gut tells you it’s not a good idea – because at the time you can’t think of a really good reason to say no? Or just to avoid the relentless badgering? Or because in the moment your child’s delight is more important to you than what is truly best in the long run?
I recently watched a tween with passion, intensity, and a clear “marketing plan,” try to sell his mom on why he should get a particular, very expensive item – the newest, name-brand “everyone has” shoes. His mom was calm but firm, and responded wisely.
Holidays and other gatherings can be a lot of fun — but they can also be chaotic and overstimulating for kids! Rather than punish your children for misbehavior, be thoughtful ahead of time about how to prepare them for success.
Whether your child loudly proclaims Gramma’s sweet potatoes are YUCKY!, gets out of control when opening presents, or shuts down and withdraws when talking with adults, make a thoughtful plan and weave in plenty of encouragement.
[To ease holiday mealtime stress, read 7 Practical Tips for Picky Eaters.]
With the three simple steps below, you can set your child up for success and create a truly enjoyable holiday gathering!
It’s tempting when kids experience rejection, to want to protect them and be a buffer to keep their feelings from being hurt. Our blood boils, our God-given Mama or Papa Bear instincts kick in, and we may well go after the offending teacher or student. Sometimes this is a wise course of action, especially if a child is experiencing abuse or extreme rejection. But many times the best strategy is to be thoughtful about strengthening the child instead of protecting them. This prepares them for other inevitable situations in life when rejection threatens to redefine their sense of identity.
Cara’s kids had different classes with the same teacher. Mr. Benson may have been a well-intentioned guy, but the methods he used in his class were laden with shaming, critical messages.
In Jaden’s class, Mr. Benson decided to prepare the kids for the teasing they were sure to get next year in middle school. He projected each student’s picture from school photo day, one at a time, for the class to laugh at. Jaden’s anxious, deer-in-the-headlights mugshot brought a chorus of laughter and comments from his classmates. He ran off the bus sobbing that day, traumatized by the humiliation.
“My child is determined to push my buttons.”
“She just acts out to get attention.”
“I get so tired of his misbehavior, I just don’t enjoy my son any more.”
Misbehaving kids are often discouraged and looking for a strong emotional response from their parents. They want to know they matter to their parents! But in the blur of family life, they often get that energized response when… they misbehave. “Carson James Smith! Stop that right now!” delivered with intense eye contact and furrowed brow.
Ah, zing. Reward. Connection made. Cycle reinforced.
Carson just got lots of attention for misbehavior, strengthened his identity as a pain-in-the-neck, and is even more likely to repeat the behavior. Soon. Parents often resent this repeated misbehavior and connect even less with their child.
Changing this pattern starts with realizing: My kids have a God-given need for my intense attention! It’s an important part of bonding. This is especially true of more challenging kids. They are looking for an “intensity match” to their big emotions.
How do we begin to be set free from life-long patterns of rigidity and control that affect lots of areas in our parenting lives? I remember when the kids would make endless messes or bicker repeatedly – it would drive me nuts! I just wanted it to stop. So I would engage with angst and negativity, and wonder why it wasn’t helping. Jim would ask me the question, “What are you going to do to be ok if they don’t change?” I hated the question. It made me even madder. But it was a good question. As I learned to look first at myself and my let go of my need for control, I could let God’s peace begin to infuse our challenges. I was able to engage with much more wisdom, insight, and even creativity, and became more effective in my parenting. I had to change my perspective about what was happening to me spiritually as a parent. It changed the way I disciplined. I began working toward long-term lifechange in my kids by starting with change in my own heart.
David Mathis, executive editor at DesiringGod.org, an online Christian website, and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis, shared how he made a small change in the way he viewed his role as a parent after taking the online Discipline That Connects course, and he shares below about how a shift in his thinking led to some big changes in the way he thought of himself as a parent…as well as how he thought of his children.
Big picture thinking is important when it comes to parenting. It is so easy to get caught up in the moment with your child’s misbehavior, responding in knee-jerk fashion to attempt to get a certain behavior to STOP. Sometimes, our swift discipline does make the misbehavior stop. But, does it teach grace and result in a child’s changed heart or in a deeper understanding about the way actions affect others and his/her relationship with God?
As parents who hope our children will walk in love and truth, we would do well to consider: How do I want my child to view God when she messes up?