Argh….it can be frustrating and heart-wrenching at all the same time when kids are defiant. We love them so much and want the best for them. “Why won’t they just calm down and listen to me??”
I write those words from first hand experiences with my own kids along with sharing the experiences of other parents. Being a parent comes with feeling an extremely wide range of emotions, especially when we are talking about wanting the best for our kids. Although we strive to always do right by them, parents make mistakes sometimes.
Trust me, it’s ok. There is no such thing as a perfect parent!
But let’s take a few steps closer to what a near-perfect parent would do….
In supporting families as a mental health counselor, I always encourage caregivers to start by talking with their kids and to keep the communication going. If you want behavior change to become a reality for your kids, you need to communicate with them.
Trust me, I know what I am talking about.
Communicating with our kids is one of the most important parent strategies that we need to be using.
AND it is the one that is needed in every step of behavior change!
Yet, we must remind ourselves that the only person we can truly control and change is….
That’s right, as much as we would like to think of ourselves, as in charge; we all have free-will which dictates what we will and will not do. Your children are no exception.
Thankfully with respectful relationships in play and a great coping skills plan in place, they should willingly follow through on your requests. Most of them anyway 🙂
Speaking of a coping skills plan, let’s take a look at how communication can get your starting in identifying triggers and incentives.
Coping Skills Plan
Triggers are those things that get your child upset and are likely to result in them displaying tantrum-like behaviors and/or having an outburst. Part of growing up is learning how to manage strong emotions when life doesn’t go our way. Your child needs to learn these things from you. Not only do you need to teach them how, but you also have to show them how. All of this stems from communication.
Start by reflecting first on what you think are your child’s triggers. Then ask them what upsets them. If they are age 5 or older they should be able to name a few things and also discuss your thoughts on what their triggers appear to be. From this point, keep talking as you gain your child’s feedback on trying a few coping tools when the next trigger happens.
Lastly, talk about what things your child would like to earn when they use the selected tools. These rewards don’t have to be physical items. Whatever you choose, just make sure there are incentives in place to reinforce your child’s use of their new skills. That way they will have a reason to continue to use their new found tools.
But what if my child is resistant to talk with me about this stuff? This question comes up a lot and is more common that one might think. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Keep reading, because we will uncover creative ways to communicate with your child that doesn’t include words. Cool!
Let’s make a game out of this topic because honestly, who wants to read about how to talk with others? Boring!
Before we discover the ins and outs of communicating (yes there are a lot of things to consider), see if you can figure out the answers to these questions. Honor system people…try not to read the answer:
- You tell your children that play time is over, but you continue to tickle them.
Question: What will your kids hear?
Answer: It is still play time. It is your action of tickling them that sends the message that it is still play time. Your words mean nothing!
- You tell your children that there is no talking in the library. Just then, your phone rings and you have a conversation.
Question: What did your children learn?
Answer: Talking in the library is okay.
- You tell your children that they will have to go to their room if they do not start listening. You make this threat three more times and now you are frustrated and are yelling at them.
Question: What did your children hear?
Answer: “Blah, Blah, Blah, BLAH, BLAH” When your actions do not support your words, your kids may hear your actual words, but they mean nothing. Only when you follow through on doing what you say, will your children take you seriously.
- You tell your teenage daughter that she can go shopping with you on Saturday for a prom dress. Saturday comes and you tell her that she will have to wait another day because there is something that you have to do.
Question: What did you teach your daughter?
Answer: Unless it is an emergency situation, your daughter has learned that you are unreliable. She has also learned that it is okay to go back on her word.
Out of those four examples, how many answers did you get correct? No worries if you fell short, try again when you are done reading 😉
Matching Words with Actions
So what happened in each of those examples? If you said something like “the parent’s words and actions did not match” you are right! As parents, we are the examples that our children look toward the most. If our actions are not in sync with our words we are teaching our children poor lessons in responsibility, respect, and appropriate behaviors.
This my friend, is a dangerous slope for not only your relationship with your child, your behavior planning, but also in how they will likely interact with others.
Hearing verbal communication (when we speak to them) and seeing non-verbal communication (our actions and how these actions relate to our spoken word) is how our children learn to behave, define their boundaries, and understand the world around them.
Believe when I say, “Our unspoken communication is a MUCH more powerful tool in teaching our children. It’s a more powerful agent of change than anything we could ever say with words. It is my hopes that you were able to gather that from our little game.
Speaking of games, here is another one…
Do As I Say!
Pick the examples of how you should communicate with your child when you want them to do something:
- “Please go to……” or “I need you to…”
- “It would be nice if you…” or “Could you…”
- “Please empty the dishwasher, okay?”
When telling your children to do something, make eye contact as you use a clear and simple message. Always be respectful yet be direct. Pleading with them or ending a request with the word “okay?” is not a request, it is asking your children if the request is okay with them. I’m sure you see the problem here!
Given that, if you picked number one you are right! Good job 🙂
Choices, Choices, Choices. Everyone Loves Choices!
Think about it….when we are given choices it makes us happy as adults. We don’t like to be told what to do. We like to feel as though we have some control over a situation. Your children aren’t any different.
Although children are expected to comply with what they are told to do, It is extremely important to allow them to experience some level of decision making power. That way they are using some independence while feeling empowered to make choices for themselves.
After all, one of our jobs as a parent is to give them the best and to support them in becoming respectful and responsible adults. In order to succeed in this task, our kids need us to start now by allowing them to make choices and to problem-solve situations in safe environments.
How to do it…
In order to do this, give your child no more than 2-3 choices and select the choices that will result in respectful and responsible behavior.
For example, “We need to go grocery shopping and clean the house. Would you like to come shopping with me or stay home with dad and help him clean?”
The power that can be found in giving choices like these is huge:
- Your kids experience a sense of control
- You allow your children to make responsible choices that they feel vested in following through with.
- There will be less arguing with your request because your child is allowed to choose
- Both of you will feel empowered and confident that you have made positive choices that furthers a respectful parent-child relationship
Our last game: Communicating during the tough times….
When Your Child is Upset
Oh boy! It can be hard to interact with others when they are angry or upset. It makes many people uncomfortable. Lucky for you we are going to figure out what to do to communicate during the tough times.
If you child is responsive to your words, what phrases do you think would help in a tough moment?
- It appears that you feel…
- It seems to me…
- You believe…
- What I hear you saying…
- Do you mean…
- Correct me if I am wrong, could it be that…
- I think I hear you saying…
- Is it possible that…
- Let me see if I understand…
If you picked all of them, you are right! Awesome! Now you know what phrases to try with your kids when they become upset.
Try this too…
Some children become too upset to be able to process our words. That is okay. We can still support them by using non-verbal communication. Which techniques do you think could help?
- using puppets
- coping box
- sign language
Again, if you picked all of these you are right! These non-verbal ways to communicate can make it much easier for a child to convey their feelings and thoughts. Prior to your child becoming upset, show them these choices and have them ready to use when needed.
Tip: These are great choices even for kids who respond to verbal communication. It makes it more exciting and helps them to open up even more!
Not only will choices allow your children to feel more empowered, but using these options of non-verbal communication makes it much less threatening for them to share their feelings and thoughts.
An additional thought: Over the years, I have seen countless kids open up when a puppet asks them a question. Provide them with their own puppet so they feel that it is their puppet responding, not them. It’s so exciting to see. Give it a try!
Last but certainly not least, we have the all important topic of communicating with your child when they misbehave. This is tough stuff for a lot of parents so take note:
When communicating with your children follow these steps to help avoid blaming, scolding, and negative attention (none of those are effective anyway, so don’t do it!):
- Use a calm voice. This shows that you are in control of yourself. It also serves as an example to your children of how to handle problems in a calm manner.
- Speak about your child’s behavior. Simply state that your child is a fabulous person, it is the behavior that needs to change.
- Tell your child simply and specifically what you expect. “I need you to…”
- Tell your child the consequences associated with following your request along with the consequences for not following through.
- If needed, walk away and give your child wait time to make a decision.
- Always deliver the consequence based on what your child choose to do.
- Always, always, tell your child you love them!
- Do all of these things consistently.
Follow these steps each and every time and you will be amazed at the ways in which your children will show positive behavior choices.
As a special note: When kids know that they have their parents’ love no matter what, it will foster communication between the two of you. This will greatly benefit your relationship and your children’s ability to navigate the world around them. When they communicate with you, trust you to lovingly answer their many life questions, and to have conversations about right vs. wrong, trusting relationships between parents and children flourish.
Barb Roba, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS