The following is a guest post by Laura Ling.
The following comment was posted on an earlier post, and since I see many parents with similar issues, I wanted to use it as a jumping off point for when you’re parenting positively but still having challenges.
I feel so lost about this as well. We have been attempting to continue positive parenting for nearly 18 months. Prior to this, we spanked on rare occasions and did some time outs- but mostly tried to redirect and teach (so we were kind of here already). I guess what is confusing me is that I feel I have not been able to build a connection with my children (4.5 and 2.5) because when I ask for something to be done, they nearly always just say NO!!! (2 year old is copying I believe)
And how do you get them to do it? I feel like everything I do is undermining the relationship even more. It comes down to “your room needs to be clean before we can go play” or whatever, and since there is always a carrot dangled, they are never doing it because they WANT to please me. I have read that they will want to please when the relationship is strong. It’s like a vicious cycle that I can’t seem to stop.
Changing parenting styles isn’t easy and requires that we change, as people, too. That can be uncomfortable or frightening, so woohoo to you for being the kind of mother who does everything she can, to do the best for her children!
The main goal of connection is being connected with your child, though. They will know if you trying to manipulate them into following your agenda. Try, if you can, to let go of results for awhile and focus on learning who your children are and what makes them tick. Spend as much time as you can observing them. What do they like? What are they good at? How do they approach obstacles? What are their learning styles?
There are four basic guidelines for engaging cooperation, even while building up your relationship:
- Use requests only when you will accept “No” as an answer. Otherwise, make statements. If it sounds like compliance is optional when it’s not, you risk further eroding connection.
- Limit rules to safety issues and top family values. Where possible and when in doubt, move ‘rules’ into ‘guidelines’ and remove power struggles surrounding those areas.
- Say “Yes” to underlying needs, if not the actual request, whenever possible. “Yes, we can go play at the park just as soon as the toys are put back in their spots! I’ll help you.”
- Ask yourself how you would influence a friend you had no power over to do what you wanted. Can you make it fun? Can you show him the value to him?
Same with hitting, kicking, pushing, etc. I take him to his room and wait with him to calm down, then we often talk about how it is hurtful and come up with alternatives. He never uses the alternatives though. He just wants to hit. He wants to push and shove and hurt his little sister when he is mad. Or he wants me to notice.
When people get upset, they lose access to the thinking part of the brain. Know how you always come up with great retorts after the person walks away? It’s impossible for people to be rational when they’re emotionally charged. Young children are just beginning to be able to access executive function (self-control, planning, delayed gratification) at the best of times. Expect them to revert back to their ‘primitive’ brain whenever upset. (See here for research on tantrums.)
First priority is to keep everyone safe. For a number of reasons, I like to say “I won’t let you hurt anyone. It’s ok to be mad. It’s not ok to hit.” Give alternatives. “You’re so mad you need to hit something! It hurts to hit people. Let’s hit this pillow. [hitting pillow] I’m so mad! Mad! Mad!” If you don’t want to seem to encourage violence (they’ll follow your lead in anger management, so if you don’t hit when upset, they probably won’t after this developmental stage) then you can walk him through some calming breathing or watching the Calm Down Jar.
When he’s calm, reinforce coping strategies. Expect to do this over and over. And over. They’re still learning to categorize, so surprisingly, each upset that has a different cause may feel like a different situation. Plus, executive function is still developing into the mid-twenties, so he literally can’t control himself all the time.
I was struck by the last sentence. Many people take that look as either defiance or attention seeking. Reframe it to see him looking to you for help. He doesn’t want to be out of control and he doesn’t want to hurt people. He does want to connect with you and he does want you to show him how to deal with these big feelings. And if he’s resorting to acting out to get your attention, be proactive and offer your undivided attention before he ‘asks’ for it next time.
I also try to stay out of their business most of the time, but it’s like kids only do what you don’t want them to do. The office is off limits, so they are constantly trying to go in there and mess with the computers/printer (this happened an hour ago. So I carried him out, and stood there holding the doorknob. It became a power struggle and then he started to hit me. So I moved him, and he started crying and then it was time for quiet time. WTH?). I don’t want them to dump their water on the table, but when I offer to go out with them to play in water/with water cups, they decline. I ask if he wants to put cups or plates on the table for dinner and he screams “NOTHING!” It’s like he is already a teenager and doing everything in his might to object and point out that I am lame and have no say in the matter.
We have lots of boundary testing here, too. 🙂 It’s (slightly) less frustrating to frame those qualities as positives – determined, curious, persistent, self-aware, and self-directed. It’s a lot more challenging to encourage those traits during childhood, even understanding that it will serve him better as an adult.
Looking to meet the underlying need is absolutely the right thing to do. I sense it might be hidden under the behaviors with your son, though. Otherwise, he’d be happy to go play in the tub or outside.
What I’ve found with my strong willed daughter is that she will resist everything when she has some big feelings, almost as if daring me. When I see that pattern developing, I offer her a hug (usually rejected, which some children do – others prefer physical closeness when upset) then create a safe place for her to offload feelings. She will rage for a bit then transition to sadness. This is normally where I can begin comforting her until she’s gotten out all of those feelings. She knows that I love and accept her, no matter how terrible she feels inside, and quickly goes back to her sunny self.
I spend lots of time (too much?) with them trying to build trust in order to get some cooperation. But cooperation doesn’t come. Then I don’t know what I SHOULD do in order to keep things positive. I sometimes feel like I understand, but I haven’t been able to get things to work. So now I just feel defeated, discouraged, and frankly, stupid. I read testimonials from other parents talking about how 2 months of positive parenting has changed their lives. I’ve been “studying” this for 18 months and don’t feel that I have gotten anywhere…except maybe a little permissive because I don’t know what else to do.
I hear your frustration and have felt it as well. Both with parenting and other written directions I just can’t seem to figure out. It’s not you; it’s the medium. It takes a lot of words to explain something and sometimes words have different meanings to different people. Sometimes there are assumptions that you already have pieces of information. Sometimes the people who see success quickly have ‘easier’ children or a different environment.
The time you spend on your relationship with your children is never wasted. The connection you build benefits you both. Keep in mind though, that no matter how strong your bond, your child will not always want to do what you want, on your timeframe. The developing brain is wired seek autonomy and determine boundaries. There will be a lot of testing, for a long time.
(other examples, he demands I cut his eggs, stay with him in his room while he changes out of his peed in pj’s, demands I stay at the top of the stairs so that he can be the first one down, etc. I don’t accommodate [but I feel that he internalizes this into a struggle for power]. They don’t really have “chores” as of yet, but we try to get them to help us clean up their toys, clear their plates, set the table. That’s about it.)
We all like to occasionally take breaks from our responsibilities. Sometimes a child doesn’t want to do something they ‘know’ how to do because they are working on some other concept and don’t want to spend the time right then. Sometimes they’re asking for more connection in the only way they can figure out.
I would say accommodate those requests where it’s feasible and explain why you can’t or won’t accommodate the other times. While you don’t want to create dependence on you for things they are capable of, you do want to model generosity of spirit by helping them out with a loving heart.
Again, I read stuff and think that this is so easy, then when I get bucked, I don’t know how to turn it around. I don’t know how to “make” them help, or what to do if they choose not to. And if it is a bad relationship in regards to being connected, I need to be pointed in the right direction to see how to improve that. Specifically what needs to be done to become better connected with mutual respect. Is that possible when I am always saying no? No you can’t drive the van/hit your sister/rip apart my books/play on my phone/watch 12 hours of TV/eat 50 cookies/buy new toys/eat the neighbors junk food/sit with us in church….
For most people, it’s neither simple nor easy. If our parents didn’t have good tools, we also don’t have good tools and we have a less positive ‘default’ when things aren’t going well. Learning new tools takes time and practice. There will be setbacks and mistakes. When you add in the human factor of your children, it’s even more complex. Is behavior due to normal development? A bad mood? The tool being applied less effectively? The wrong tool being used?
I’m seeing two different goals in this post, and as such, I’d take two different approaches. The first goal is developing more connection. This requires focus on the child and lessening of expectations. Create a safe haven in your relationship. All emotions are welcomed and support is freely given.
The second goal is cooperation. The best teacher here is modeling. Children do what we do, not what we say. They also appreciate knowing why we do things. Explain how their actions affect both them and you as parents. Give them time to respond. Toddlers can take up to several MINUTES to make a decision and act on it. Be respectful of their current activity. Give notice, especially for children who have challenges with transitions. When they do cooperate, give appreciation and resist the urge to ‘fix’ any aspect.
If you’re feeling you say no too often but your boundaries aren’t too restrictive, try saying yes to an acceptable alternative or changing your environment.
Driving – You can sit in the driver’s seat while I clean out the back seat. You can drive your car when we get home.
Damage property – You may rip this paper apart. I’m putting my books in another room because I can’t read them when they’re ripped.
Too much media – We can watch your favorite show before going to the park. I’ve noticed we aren’t as nice to each other when the TV is on more than an hour, so I’m turning it off when it’s not time to watch the show you picked out.
Too much junk food – Our tummies get upset when we eat too much of any food. Lets have some grapes instead. I’m not buying any more Oreos since they don’t help our bodies grow. Would you like cantaloupe or strawberries?
Buying thing – This trip is to get a birthday present for your cousin. I’m not buying anything extra. Maybe your cousin will let you play with him. I’m going to the store by myself today because you’ve shown me that it’s too much for you to handle right now. We’ll try again later when I have more time to spend with you.
Being separated – They have asked for services to be adult only. You get to go to special classes until then. We’re going to look for a church that allows children to sit with their parents if they want.
Positive Parenting doesn’t remove challenges. Your children will still have meltdowns and test boundaries and go through stages. Positive Parenting gives you tools to make your home happier and more peaceful. It positions you to retain your influence once your children are too big to physically control.