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Today we interview marriage and family therapist, Jeff Tesch to talk about something that is SO frustrating to SO many parents. In fact, we have some questions that we ask parents who enter our private Facebook group (You’re welcome to join, too!) to figure out what struggles they’re facing with their strong willed child. Over and over again we see that parents have asked their kids to stop a certain behavior or to do something the parent has asked and the child’s behavior simply isn’t changing.
Here’s what Jeff Tesch teaches about why our words aren’t working and what to do instead.
First, there are times that it is appropriate and really good to use our words with our kids.
1. When we’re getting CLEAR with our kids about behavior.
Our children are not minds readers and they need us to be really clear with them UPFRONT about what behaviors are okay and which are not. It’s important to not only be clear about behavior expectations but to also be clear about what will happen when a child does not meet those expectations. This gives your kids the best chance to behave in a way that helps the whole family. In our online parenting course, we teach that it’s a great idea to get kids involved in the whole discussion. Let them tell you why certain behaviors aren’t helping the family, let them give some input in what consequences they think are appropriate for misbehavior, let them role play the plan you just created as a family. Clearly, there needs to be a lot of talking during this process.
2. When we’re COACHING our kids.
Researcher and marriage and family therapist John Gottman says that one of our most important roles as parents is coaching our children. Coaching them through their emotions, coaching them through the challenges of life, coaching them and guiding them towards critical life skills they need for adulthood. Coaching requires a lot of talking.
Parenting Tip: Trying to coach a child when they are emotionally charged doesn’t work well. When humans are feeling really big emotions: anger, sadness, frustration, etc. the reasoning part of the brain TURNS OFF and the child can’t actually learn anything. Wait until emotions are calm to coach your child.
3. When we’re CONNECTING with our kids.
Research shows that our kids need us to connect with them. Not WANT us to connect with them, NEED us to connect with them. Use your words to ask about their day, to tell them you love them, to play together, to laugh, to joke, to comfort and to point out the positive in them.
When to not use our words:
1. When you’ve already asked a million times or as a consequence.
There are a lot of parenting books out there and many of them contradict one another. However, one common principle in any good parenting book is that if you find yourself asking a child to STOP doing something or START do something over and over again it’s time to stop talking and start acting.
Parenting tip: if you have asked your child to stop or start something on several different occasions that should raise a red flag in your brain. That red flag should wave and tell you “Stop talking, start acting.”
What do the experts mean by stop talking, start acting?
Here’s a specific example to help you understand:
I have a son that leaves his clothes on the bathroom floor after he showers. We have been asking him to pick up after himself for more months than I care to admit. In the end, either I pick up his clothes or he will after he’s been asked 207 times. This causes frustration for me, because I’m asking over and over again. Plus, this causes frustration for him because he feels like I’m nagging him. None of that is good for our relationship or for his long-term development.
So instead of continuing the crazy process of asking over and over again, I would get CLEAR with him about the issue and what my expectations are. Then we’d work together to come up with a consequence that would be motivating enough to bring about the change I’m looking for. An example might be: After the shower, he has until the end of the night to pick up his clothes. If they’re not picked up by then I say NOTHING. Instead, I will pick them up and he has to do an extra chore to earn them back.
The reason something like this would work rather than just talking is because the consequence is more motivating to a child than your lecture would be. A child doesn’t really care that much if you’re upset about their clothes on the floor. But they do care about having to do extra chores if they need their shoes that week.
Here’s another example: Say that you have a child that is back talking you. You’ve asked them over and over again to stop being so disrespectful. You realize that the talking is getting you no where and it’s time to start acting.
1.You would sit with the child
2.Discuss that each member of the family needs to show respect to each other
3. You would come up with a consequence for back talk
4. Then the next time the child back talks; you don’t give a lecture, you don’t beg for better behavior. Rather, you give the consequence you talked about.
That’s it! How much simpler and less frustrating is that than asking a million times?!
Parenting tip: If you create a plan like the one mentioned above you MUST FOLLOW THROUGH. Do not fall into the trap of giving your child a bunch of chances or rescuing them from the consequence. Your child will not learn the critical life skill of being responsible for their choices if you rescue them.
*Note: If the plan you created still isn’t motivating the child to change their behavior, it’s likely you need to switch to something that is more motivating. Good parenting involves a lot of trial and error until you find what works.
If you’re looking for more parenting advice join our private Facebook group where a child therapist answers your parenting questions each Thursday @ 1:00 pm MDT.