Kids often have different priorities than their parents. For instance, at the top of a kid’s priority list :1) play 2) relax 3) play with friends. Whereas a parent’s priority list may include things like 1) safety 2) education 3) household chores 4) family schedule 5) getting good food in your body 6) getting enough sleep, and it goes on and on and on. So how do parents get strong willed kids to follow directions and comply willingly?
I often hear “my kid refuses to do his homework”, or “my kid refuses to wake up in the morning”. Assuming there aren’t any other issues regarding being overwhelmed with school work or not getting enough sleep, then we might be able to label these struggles as a product of a kid who is strong willed or stubborn. Parents sometimes respond to their child’s stubbornness by trying to “power over” their children and physically force them out of bed. Some go as far as dragging the sheets off, pulling their child out of bed or getting in to a verbal power struggle which often leaves both parties exhausted. In addition, when you physically direct your child you are taking away their choice and control over their own body which is not ideal. If you want to create better future habits, you want them to choose to comply and feel in control of their positive choice.
Although there are many strategies and tips for helping encourage compliance, the best approach is to connect before you direct your child to do what you’d like them to do. Connecting means showing interest in them, their experience or feelings and the activity they’re engaging in. “You’re having a fun time playing with these toys” or “You’re really tired this morning. It’s hard getting up early”. By taking a few minutes to be supportive and connect they are much more likely to do what you ask next. Children are constantly testing boundaries and expectations don’t give them a reason to defy you by coming in and trying to pull them away from something enjoyable to do some other less desirable task. Come in with an engaging and warm tone, showing interest in what they’re doing and validating their enjoyment before directing to the next task. It’s a more respectful and effective communication tool that we all appreciate as humans and kids are no different. (Warning: Kids & teens especially can tell if you’re using these statements purely as a means to an end. You really have to be in the moment and genuinely mean what you say.)
I know it may seem unrealistic to be able to take time to connect with your child before a request but I imagine it takes less time than if a full power struggle commences and drags out your morning routine for 15 mins. You know your child best, so if there are times of the day when you can predict they will dig their heels in and refuse to comply then try this proactive approach of connecting before directing.
Dr. Angela Steranko