The Hidden Dangers of Compliant Kids – Part 2

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If you realized in our last post that your compliant child might be struggling internally, you’ve probably been wondering, so now what?  In this post you’ll learn how to build security and confidence in your compliant child.

We’ve found that it is helpful to approach challenges through the lens of the Connected Families Framework. This means always starting with a look at what’s going on in us.

Foundation: “You are SAFE with me.”
“You are SAFE from my unfair expectations.”

This can be a difficult first step, because it usually involves answering some hard questions.

Are you subtly dividing your children into “good kid/bad kid” categories?
If that’s the case, even if you are not overt in your comparison, your kids are building identity around those categories. Can you leave behind the black and white thinking and embrace the fact that each family member is a “work in progress” created for God’s good purposes? (Ephesians 2:10)

Are you leaning on your compliant child to make life easier?
If you are stressed by life circumstances or a difficult child, it’s time to be very practical about drawing on your supportive community (NOT on your compliant child).

Just like Leah, start asking your child exploratory questions:

  • Do you ever feel like you have to hold the family together?
  • When you see I’m stressed, do you feel pressure to cooperate to make life easier for me?

Then reassure your child that they can focus on being a kid, not a caretaker to you.

Connection: “You are LOVED no matter what.”
“You’re not loved more when you’re compliant, or less if you’re not.”

Show love when your compliant child stays under the radar:
It’s easy to miss connecting in intentional ways with your easy-going child, especially if a sibling requires a significant portion of your energy. We asked our compliant son Noah how he felt the most loved, and he said it was by doing activities together. We were diligent to connect with him on his terms, because otherwise he might have concluded, “I was right! It’s not safe for me to share what I feel or need.”  All kids need to know that they are loved and enjoyed when they are doing nothing (good or bad) in particular.  

Show love when your compliant child isn’t compliant:
Kids also need to know that it’s safe to struggle and fail in your family. All compliant kids will have times when they’re uncooperative. When that happens, “Seize the day! These moments are your golden opportunity to communicate, “You are LOVED no matter what.” How this might look: “Hey, I see the mess is still here, and you seem to be a little cranky about doing your chores. Do you think I love you less right now?

Show love when your compliant child is compliant:
When your child is compliant, it might be tempting to relax in the glow of your awesome parenting. However, these are opportunities when you can build security in your love by asking, “Do you think I love you more because… you took out the trash so quickly?” Your child might be confused about how to answer that question, so just smile and say, “Nah…. I love you just because you’re my child!

Show love when your child can’t express their feelings/needs:
Leah and Kevin’s normally compliant daughter Cate (see part 1 of this article) began to go through a difficult period with angry episodes like she’d never had before. Kevin could see she had lots of deep feelings brewing under the surface, but as usual, Cate clammed up quickly if she was pressured to talk. Kevin worked to create a safe environment for her. At bedtime he’d invite but not pry, “I know there’s something bothering you. As soon as you’re ready you can tell me.” Night after night he’d hang out in her room for a bit while she said nothing (a rather agonizing process) but one day creating a safe space for her paid off and she began to share her difficult feelings about peer interactions so he could help her navigate this challenge. His patient persistence had taught her, “My feelings matter and I can share them without being rejected.”

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Coach: “You are CALLED and CAPABLE”
“You are capable of expressing what you feel and asking for what you need.”

Give kids a “feelings language.”
When stressed families are focused on surviving day to day, there can be a lack of vocabulary when it comes to expressing emotions in a healthy way. Identifying and sharing emotions is essential for the mental health of all family members. Here are some ideas:

  • Talk about the feelings of the characters in the stories you read, and what was important to each character. Then link those feelings to different experiences your kids might have.
  • Hang a poster with pictures of kids expressing different emotions and refer to it often as you teach those concepts. 
  • Read about teaching empathy.  These can give insight into teaching about emotions in general.  

Teach kids to self-advocate.
When kids learn to express their wants and needs it teaches them to confidently speak the truth in love and resolve conflict well rather than suppress their feelings. Some ideas to help:

  • Ask their opinion about random things and affirm any wisdom you hear in their response.
  • You might even ask, “What’s important to you today?” In The Power of Moments the authors share how it has become standard practice for every children’s hospital ward in Scotland to empower kids to self-advocate by drawing a “What Matters to Me” picture as soon as possible after they are admitted.
  • Our strong-willed son Daniel did not struggle to self-advocate, but he’s so passionate about the value of it (especially for girls and women) that he wrote and recorded this little song to help teach others:

If you have needs then say that you need them.
If you have feels then say that you feel them.
If you have dreams then say that you dream them.
Advocate for yourself!

If your child is anxious about conflict, can’t self-advocate, or over apologizes, don’t delay: take our Sibling Conflict online course! Kids will learn that conflict isn’t bad, it’s an opportunity for growth. And it’s even okay to have conflict with mom or dad and learn to resolve that as well. 

Correct: “You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions.”
“You are responsible for your judgmental attitudes.”

If Jesus’ actions toward both judgmental Pharisees and struggling sinners are any plumb line, then a child’s “holier than thou” attitude toward a struggling sibling should be addressed. It’s time to develop a family theology to let everyone know, “we are ALL beloved sinners needing God’s grace and forgiveness.” Being selfish, defiant, or rude obviously warrants repentance and forgiveness. So does a condescending attitude toward others or doing “good things” to feed our pride. A great resource to help kids understand this is  Sydney and Norman, A Tale of Two Pigs by Phil Vischer.

No matter what the personalities, or strengths and challenges, are in your family – it is vital for everyone in your family to have a foundation of God’s grace and forgiveness. It facilitates healing for a discouraged, defiant child, and draws a compliant, but judgmental, child toward humility and compassion. There’s no more precious gift to your children.

While it might seem like you’ve won the kiddo lottery by having a compliant child, don’t become complacent in your parenting. One parent responded to article one of this series:I felt like you had witnessed my life as I read these words. As a compliant child with a difficult younger brother, I have worked through many of these issues.” So help your compliant child avoid those issues as you use every opportunity to build security (FOUNDATION and CONNECTION) and confidence (COACH and CORRECT) in your child. Your child will thank you!

In our Sibling Conflict online course (also available for small groups!compliant kids learn to self-advocate as they practice The Peace Process. At $28, this is a fantastic bargain. Join us today! 

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Lynne Jackson
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