Tell me if any of these conversations happen between you and your child in any given day:
Parent– “please put your dishes in the dishwasher”
Parent– “It is bedtime, please turn off the TV or tablet”
Child– ignores as if parent is not talking
Parent– “I’m sorry, but we are not getting candy at the store today”
Child- throws self on the floor of the store and melts down
If any of these scenarios feel even vaguely familiar, you are one of the many parents that works daily to encourage your child to cooperate and realizes there are days that feels more difficult than herding cats. Let’s take a look at a few simple ideas that you and your family can test run in the next month to try to change the language of your family when it comes to the power struggle of asking for cooperation from your child.
My favorite resource for this topic is an incredible book written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish called “How to talk so kids will listen & Listen so kids will talk”. In this text, the authors highlight several ways to encourage children to cooperate without parents demanding or being brought into a power struggle with their children. Faber & Mazlish outline 5 simple ideas to help parents change their current, struggling pattern with their families:
- Describe the problem rather than the behavior such as “the light in your bedroom is on” rather than “you didn’t turn off your light!” This allows your child to be able to correct the behavior without feeling blamed or as if he or she is in trouble.
- Give information to your child about the problem or what you as a parent see happening because of the problem such as “when a towel is left on the floor it gets wet”. Again, this allows opportunity for your child to choose to follow directions without becoming defensive or defiant.
- Say your request with a word, rather than a paragraph. It is easy to want to describe the issue or request in a full monologue mode but even as adults we are aware that at a certain point we stop listening and your child is no different. If you say to your child “light”, “towel”, “trash” or “lunch” most likely he or she will be able to look around and see what you are asking of them. A key part of this strategy is that you and your family have outlines expectations ahead of time and therefore you are not teaching new rules to your child in a word, but rather reminding your child about an already decided upon expectation. Let’s be honest, we appreciate when our bosses at work give simple reminders and then allow us opportunity to complete the task. This is no different and can encourage your child to increase independence and self esteem.
- Talk about your feelings to your child. We are humans and we have feelings. Hiding your feelings from your children won’t make them go away nor does hiding your feelings encourage relationship with your child. You are your child’s best teacher so allowing your child to learn feelings management in relationship with you will help him or her with their relationships at school and in the community. Saying “I’m sad that the lamp got broken when you were playing baseball in the house” or “I’m frustrated that I have had to repeat myself five times today” allows your child to learn how you react to stressors but also allows for your child to learn the cause and effect nature of feelings. Feelings do not simply happen, they are typically triggered by a stressor or incident. This is important information for your child as he or she becomes a young adult.
- Writing notes can be another simple and creative tool to help communicate with your child without a long and drawn out conversation. Encourage your children to help write the notes as well if that will help your child “buy in” to this task so to speak. Notes about remembering to turn off the lights, checking backpacks before leaving the house in the morning or not watching TV before homework is finished are consistent reminders to your child without you having to be constantly following your child or giving orders. These also allow for development of good routine and habits which again increase your child’s self concept, independence and self esteem.
It is important for your child to feel mastery of his or her world as well as for you to feel as though you are not constantly battling with your child for power of your home. These simple strategies outlines by Faber & Mazlish provide a useful outline for simple strategies to help improve your communication with your child and hopefully your overall rhythm and routine. As always, your unique child and family dynamics will most likely need to use these strategies as an outline rather than rules set in stone so get creative and see what happens! If you would like help or encouragement in making this change, this can be a great time to start family therapy in order to explore family dynamics that are a barrier to successful communication and cooperation. Northstar Counseling Center is a great resource for exploring is family therapy could be right for you and your family. You are a valuable resource to your children, exploring what simple changes can be made to improve your overall family functioning can be difficult but in the long run so rewarding. You can do it!