Why Won't My Child Do as I Say?


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In speaking with parents a comment I frequently hear is “My child won’t listen!” Repeated attempts in trying to get a child to co-operate often lands on deaf ears and leaves parents feeling exhausted and helpless. Frequently we say things we later regret and become riddled with guilt. Usual attempts often include nagging, yelling, spanking, time out, lecturing and threats. Despite consistently not getting the results we’re looking for, we resort to the same methods time and time again. We usually use what we were taught to use by our own parents. Although we often resolve to ourselves that we will do things differently and not resort to some of their methods of parenting, we do. It seems to be automatic. This is not intended to be an article about blaming our parents, rather an understanding of why we do what we do and provide some alternative responses. There were no parenting courses for our parents and they all did the best they knew how.

Consider for a moment your own internal response when someone you know demands that you do something or that you to stop doing something. For the most part, we instantly become defensive and decide that we’ll do as we please. We feel robbed of our power and control. We often feel attacked and want to attack back. Children have the same internal response when we use a hostile tone of voice and demand that something be stopped or that something be accomplished.

Simply by rephrasing our request and using a more positive tone we can often get the result we’re looking for. If children don’t feel attacked there is less of a need to become defensive and if they feel they can hold on to some power there is less of a need to gain power. “Stop that right now!!” can be rephrased to: “As soon as you stop doing that, I’ll know you’re ready to go the park. ” “Pick up your toys right now or they’re all going into the garbage!!!” can be changed to: “I need you to pick up your toys before you watch your program. I can help. Do you want to pick up the lego or the cars?” “Get into the car right now!!!” can be changed to: “We need to go out in the car now. What toy do you want to bring with you?” When attempting to get your child to pick up toys, without raising your voice you can try saying: “As soon as you’ve put your train set away, I’ll know you’re ready for your snack. ” Also, a “no!” response to a child can often be turned into a “yes”. “Can I have a cookie?” Instead of saying no you can say: “Yes, as soon as we get home, or as soon as you’ve finished your lunch, or later this afternoon…” Nagging and lecturing as a way to engage a child is almost guaranteed to evoke a defiant response. It’s seen as a form of attack which makes us all; young and old respond defensively.

Children will learn to respect us more when we show respect towards them. They also learn how to show respect towards others. Do you sometimes hear yourself when overhearing your child playing with another child? I’ve often heard parents say: “Oh my gosh! She sounds just like me!” Often times, we don’t like what we hear but we can choose to use what we hear out of our of children’s mouths as an opportunity to make some positive changes to our parenting. Children are great mimics. If we want them to treat others respectfully, we first of all have to model respect.

By no means does this mean allowing them to do as they please or condoning unacceptable behavior. They need strongly defined limits but within those limits we need to allow them to make acceptable choices. Strongly defined limits means establishing simple, enforceable rules, deciding on appropriate consequences for misbehaviors and following through, and being consistent.

Barbara Desmarais
Parenting and Life Coach


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