Getting kids to listen: When Connection isn't enough

Getting your strong-willed child to listen: When Connection isn’t enough, Part I

In my last blog I told you that although Connection Before Correction is a really popular parenting strategy nowadays, and although we absolutely need to Connect with our kids, parents and parenting experts have made a big mistake: They have taken what we know about Connection – that a lack of connection sometimes plays a part in bad behavior – and based on this, they’ve come to the conclusion that 1) kids misbehave because they don’t feel Connected, and 2) if you DO Connect, kids won’t act out.

But this isn’t always true, is it? In fact, if you have a strong-willed, oppositional or defiant kid, most of the time Connection, by itself, does NOTHING to get them to listen.

But if Connection doesn’t work with strong-willed kids, what does??

Want to teach your strong-willed, oppositional or defiant child to listen and cooperate? If you have a strong-willed, oppositional or defiant kid, here are the strategies that work!

First, yes, you DO need to be positive;

Second, you need to know what to do – and what NOT to do – when your child gets angry or has a meltdown;

Third, you need an Accountability System – you need a system for holding your child Accountable to listen to you;

And last but not least: You need to meet your child’s need for Control!

And whether you’re raising a strong-willed child or an “easy” child who wants nothing more than to please you, it all starts with YOU BEING POSITIVE. I’m going to talk about that in this blog, and I’ll be talking the other strategies in other blogs.

Positive Discipline 101

If you want to teach your strong-willed, oppositional or defiant child to work with you instead of against you, the first thing you need to do is, be sure you’re communicating and interacting with them in a positive way.

Now just like with Connection, you being positive is not all there is to getting a strong-willed child to listen. But if you’re negative and punitive, this escalates the problem behavior. Strong-willed kids don’t listen because they want control; but if you respond to their need for control with yelling, threats, and sarcasm… that adds fuel to the fire, and it drives them deeper into their defiance. So, you DO need to speak to the kids using positive communication and a positive tone of voice.

Here are four positive communication techniques I teach the parents in my coaching practice:

Positive Parenting Communication Technique 1:
Give Clear Instructions

First, give clear, face-to-face directives. It’s very important to be clear and direct when you ask your child to do something. When you want your child to do something, ask them “to their face” – don’t call out from another room, or while you’re on your phone, multi-tasking – and make sure your directives are clear.

For example, let’s say Sean is busy with his video game. I’m going to walk up to him, get his attention – and if he doesn’t make eye contact, that’s perfectly fine – and then I’ll make my request. “Sean, it’s 9:30. Please get ready for bed.”

I tell the parents I work with to give clear, face-to-face directives because if you’re not clear, it’s just not fair. If you’re yelling from another room, who knows? Maybe they didn’t hear you! And because strong-willed kids aren’t natural people-pleasers, they really do need you to be direct: Don’t just tell them what time it is: “Sean, it’s time for bed.” Don’t just tell them what you want: “Sean, I’d really like it if you’d get ready for bed.” Don’t just express frustration: “Sean, you KNOW it’s time for bed!” You need to ask directly: “Sean, please get ready for bed.”

Positive Parenting Communication Technique 2:
Ditch The Judgment

Now the second positive communication habit I want to share with you is this: Use a positive or neutral tone.

When you ask your child to do something, and even if they’re crossing the line and you need them to stop doing something, it’s really important that you speak to them in a positive or neutral voice, without any judgment. If Sean has taken his sister’s iPad, it’s “Sean, please give your sister back her iPad.”

Even if life with Sean is a daily battle. Even if you’ve had to correct him 30 times that day. There’s no yelling. There’s no lecturing. There’s no sarcasm. There’s no non-verbals – no eye-rolling or exasperated sighs. I know you may be frustrated, but people just get more defensive when they feel criticized or judged. And if you yell or you’re sarcastic – well, now you’re being mean!

You don’t lose anything when you remove the frustration and judgment from your communication, but you do lose when you add these things in. For best results, you need to keep it positive!

Positive Parenting Communication Technique 3:
Don’t Argue!

Ever fight with your kids?? Here’s the third positive communication habit I want you to have: “Take the fight out of it!” Don’t get caught up in the argument:

You: “Sean, it’s bedtime. Please give me your iPad and you can have it back in the morning.”

Sean: “That’s not fair. Why can’t I keep it?”

You: “You can’t keep it because I want to be sure you’re not using it after lights-out.”

Sean: “I won’t use it! Why don’t you trust me?”

You: “I do trust you, but I just want to take it so you won’t be tempted.”

Sean: “Can I just have five more minutes? It’s only five minutes!”

Sound familiar? And yes, I know it can be really challenging when your child responds to your request with an objection, or they may demand that you explain yourself: “WHY?” Or maybe they try to “negotiate.” But it’s important that you don’t go there, because if you do, you’ll end up in a fight. You’ll NEVER answer their argument in a way that satisfies them – they’ll ALWAYS have a counter-argument – and sooner or later you’ll get frustrated – and now you can’t be positive!

When you ask your child to do something and they argue with you, keep your words to a minimum: “Please give me your iPad.” It’s often best to not say anything! And because your child is arguing instead of listening, this is often a time to use your Accountability tools. I’ll be talking about Accountability in another blog.

Positive Parenting Communication Technique 4:
Say Thank You

The last positive communication habit I want to share today is this: Say Thank You. When your child does what you ask, say Thank You! Say Thank You if they listened the first time, say Thank You if they listened the third time, say Thank You even if you had to give them a Consequence because they just wouldn’t listen otherwise.

Of course we don’t want this to be gushing praise – “Oh, THANK you, sweetie!” – because we want them to see listening as a basic expectation, not a hero’s journey. We don’t want this to be, “You made SUCH a good decision” – but we do want to acknowledge that when they listened, this required real effort on their part. This goes a long way toward helping them to feel appreciated – and respected. And this is another way to keep your interactions positive.

Whether you’re raising a strong-willed child or an “easy” child who wants nothing more than to please you, it all starts with you being positive.

The story doesn’t end here, of course. If you have a strong-willed, oppositional or defiant child, being Positive does NOT mean your child will do what you ask. And that’s OK! In the beginning of this video I told you about four tools I use to teach strong-willed kids to listen. Being Positive is your foundation, but there’s more to a house than just the foundation.

I’ll be talking about the other tools you’ll need in other blogs, so if you like this blog, stay tuned! And in the meantime, do you know anyone who needs to hear this message? Share this blog with them!

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