What To Do When Our Kids Don’t Listen Part 3

In a recent post I discussed some thoughts on how parenting has changed in the past few decades. Many parents now find themselves parenting kids who have it all and expect this to continue indefinitely. A frustrating predicament as it often seems to lead to kids snubbing our requests. The question then becomes what do we do when our kids don’t listen? Simple lists just won’t cut it for this one as there is no silver bullet (point) that’s going to do just solve the problem. I’m therefore going to take the time to explore several points over a series of three posts.

The first post of this series introduced the concept of the “good enough parent” as one who is supposed to fail as a parent so that their child can grow to be independent and learn how to accept loss and imperfection by seeing it in their imperfect parent. The post also highlighted how fostering independence takes time and often results in our kids not behaving as we’d wish. Part 2 focused on how change happens and how to confront difficult/defiant behavior. This brings us to Part 3, where I highlight a parenting mistake I made and some of the parenting fears that drive us to act in ways that don’t always serve our kids’ best interests.

Don’t give them the power: A few months ago my son dropped his first F-bomb…so sweet, right? I made a big mistake in handling it as I yelled, grabbed him, took him to his room, and told him to “never ever use that word again!” So where’s the mistake? Well, my overreaction marked this word as more significant than any of the other exciting words he’s been using of late. He now knows that this word has power he can use to first, elicit a strong response from me and second, defy me as I can’t stop him from using the word. As parents, we often get caught up in this dynamic. We want obedience and respect from our kids, and we want it now! However, in these situations, patience and calm pays huge dividends. Had I not reacted so strongly, the “f-word” would have quickly disappeared from my son’s vocabulary, having no more value to him than a word like “dumb”. After all, we all tell our kids to “just ignore it” when a sibling is teasing them or takes a favorite toy. Time to start listening to our own advice!

We’re all going to fail as parents sometimes, so let’s embrace it together: A new friend I made through my daughter commented on a recent post, saying that I shouldn’t be anxious if my son drops the f-bomb around him because he’d find it funny. I liked the way this made me feel as this is a sentiment we should embrace as a parenting community. Don’t misunderstand me; it is not acceptable to have a kid cursing like a drunken sailor on the playground or soccer field every day. But all our kids have done something that is embarrassing or inappropriate and we’ve felt that we as parents were being judged by those watching. This may be our own inner idealized parent, the one who wants to look perfect in the eyes of our parenting peers (at least in public), but I think we might not be so prone to watch and judge our children’s every move if we knew that those around us are fine with our children’s occasional missteps. We fail as adults here and there and that’s a good thing, so shouldn’t we allow our kids to be a tad less than perfect, too? Perhaps we’re aiming for them to be more like, kids.

The light at the end of the tunnel: If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you may have noticed that I have stopped writing about my daughter and instead have started focusing on my son. This is because my daughter is actually beginning to gain control over her ability to cope with loss in all its forms. She still has her moments of irrational ridiculousness, but she’s getting there. Part of this has to do with her age; she’s 7 years old now and has begun to put herself in other people’s shoes. Yet part of this is also due to the fact that my wife and I are employing many of the above strategies and sometimes they’ve worked and sometimes they haven’t. Despite our mixed results and a bump of validation from recent research on the value of an eclectic approach, I feel like there has been one constant that has been the most effective tool we have. This tool is simply that we believe she’s going to do right and make good choices and we treat her as if she will. Though there have been many times where my daughter has not been her best self, we too have been guilty of the same as her parents. We’ve never been perfect parents and never will be, but perhaps we’ve managed to be good enough.

What To Do When Our Kids Don't Listen Part 2

In a recent post I discussed some thoughts on how parenting has changed in the past few decades. Many parents now find themselves parenting kids who have it all and expect this to continue indefinitely.  A frustrating predicament as it often seems to lead to kids snubbing our requests. The question then becomes What Do We Do When Our Kids Don’t Listen? Simple lists just won’t cut it for this one as there is no silver bullet (point) that’s going to do just solve the problem. I’m therefore going to take the time to explore several points over a series of three posts.

The first post of this series introduced the concept of the “good enough parent” as one who is supposed to fail as a parent so that their child can grow to independence and learn about how to accept loss and imperfection by seeing it in their imperfect parent. The post also highlighted how fostering independence takes time and has a tendency to result in our kids not doing what we want them to. Part 2 will focus on how change happens and how to confront difficult/defiant behavior.

A Change in Thought Leads to Change in Behavior:  Long term behavior plans can be a very successful tool to provide structure in the home, correct a child’s misbehavior, and help parents to maintain their cool. I will discuss behavior plans in a future post, so let’s just say this: The goal of a behavior plan is to get our kids to think before acting. Like anything else, behavior plans rarely work right from the start, so 4 out of 5 times my son may get angry and use a bad word despite the plan. However, the one time that he gets angry and does not call me “stupid” but instead says “stoobie,” or the one time he doesn’t hit me and instead balls his fist is the major step towards the self-control we are aiming for. He is learning the ability to think “I may not want to say a bad word here because I’ll get a strike.” Ultimately, this is the key to his future ability to control his outbursts.

Focus On the Emotion Not On the Bad Behavior: Most of the times my son resorts to hitting, kicking, spitting or cursing it is not because he’s a bad kid, but because he is trying to deal with his feelings of loss in the only way he knows how. When my son wants to watch TV and I say “no”, he may lash out and hit me because he is trying to get rid of the feelings of loss inside of him. In a way, he’s trying to re-assert control over his 3-year-0ld world. Essentially, he is trying to give me his bad feelings. Think of out this way: What happens when he spits in my face? I get mad. Mission accomplished. He  gains some sense of control over his world by making me as angry as he is. If you are interested in further discussions of this dynamic, please read some of my past posts on the thankless job of parenting,  tantrums, and the recency bias in parenting.

Follow Through and Avoid Absolutes: Every parent chooses different battles to fight based on what is most valued in their own homes. Setting limits to successfully enforce that value system requires that you bear three things in mind: 1. Clearly define and state the target misbehavior and the consequence; 2.  Always follow through; and 3. Be sure you can follow through. So, a comment such as “if you are ever disrespectful to me again you will lose TV forever” will not work, because it is unclear what exactly being “disrespectful” means and because “forever” is a long time. A much better directive would be  “if you hit your sister again you will lose TV for the day.” The target misbehavior “hitting” is clear and the consequence is defined, realistic, and manageable. Often times, with our threats, the biggest problem is that making rules is easy, it’s enforcing them that is the real challenge.

So here in part 2 I focused on how change happens and how to confront difficult/defiant behavior all the while bearing in mind that our goal as a “good enough parent” is to fail so our kids can learn how to deal with loss and gain independence. Part 3 highlights a parenting mistake I made and some of the parenting fears that drive us to act in ways that may not necessarily be in the best interest of our kids.