What do you do when you want your child to do something…and she’s just not doing it?
From toddler through teenager, you may first try to ask nicely. Then when you meet resistance, you’ll try to reason with them:
Suzy, please put on your shoes.
Suzy, you can’t go out without shoes.
Suzy, if you don’t put your shoes on, you’re going to miss the party.
Suzy, I really hate being late.
You look at the clock. You really do hate being late. You can’t believe you’re having this discussion for the 100th time. Doesn’t she get it, after all these times? What’s the point of all this pushback when she knows that, inevitably, she has to put her shoes on?
You feel the rage burning inside you. You’re starting to feel a little out of control. Short of yelling profanity, you say it:
“I NEED YOU TO PUT YOUR SHOES ON. NOW.”
And when you say this, you’ve lost all credibility. Here’s why…
Let’s put aside the fact, for a moment, that Suzy was being uncooperative from the beginning. The truth is, she was just being a kid.
But the moment you utter the words “I need you to…” you’ve demoted yourself in the eyes of your child. You’ve gone from parent in charge to someone unsure of herself or himself.
How you say something is everything.
Think of how you feel when anyone tells you they NEED you to do something. That person automatically appears needy to you. If the bond you have with them isn’t strong, and you don’t instinctively want to please them, then your desire to please them goes out the window.
Think also of how you’ve felt with your partners. The moment you perceive that your partner NEEDS you to do something—or be something—your attraction to them diminishes.
This aversion to neediness is universal, and it starts very young. The moment your child picks up on your desperation that you are needing her to do something, she’ll be turned off from wanting to do it.
On the contrary, someone who doesn’t NEED you to do anything exudes a kind of calm, confidence and control that is very compelling.
You are attracted to confident, self-assured, capable people for a reason: when you’re around them, you can relax.
Your child desperately craves this kind of parenting, because it means they can just relax into the business of being a kid. They know you can handle anything that comes their way.
Your child wants to feel that you are a safe harbor. They feel secure when they think you’ve got things figured out. They WANT to follow your lead—but only when there’s no sign of neediness or desperation.
I know what you’re thinking: that sounds nice, but it’s easier said than done:
How am I supposed to portray this in-control image when my kid just doesn’t listen?
When you’re stuck in needing your child to do something, you’re actually coming from weakness and insecurity. By focusing only on your own need, you’ve essentially reduced yourself to another kid. And guess where that battle is going to go with your child?
The solution? Shift to the skill you finely hone with maturity: empathy. And you do this by asking yourself, “Why could my child be acting this way?”
When you pause to consider your child’s perspective, you interrupt your own habitual emotional triggers and open the doorway to a deeper connection with your child.
You also allow the possibility for new solutions to emerge—even to long-standing problems.
For instance, say your kids are fighting all the time. You want to get them to stop fighting, and you wonder what you should do to convince them not to fight. You NEED them to like each other.
And by staying stuck in this needy, myopic view, you miss the opportunity to explore what’s really going on.
The solution may very well be to strengthen the attachment you have with each child. You’re the priceless commodity—it’s a hot competition over you—and it’s showing up with them fighting with each other. Liking each other is not the solution.
Or it could be that your child doesn’t feel heard by you—her own needs are not being validated. When you open the floor to considering her point of view, you are demonstrating empathy.
Empathy works for your child the same way it does for you: when someone is willing to listen to your point of view rather than ram their own agenda down your throat, you’re much more willing to be accommodating.
When you’re coming only from your own needs and demanding cooperation, you’re coming AT your child.
When you pause, consider your child’s perspective, and demonstrate empathy, you’re doing what I call “coming alongside” your child.
This is how you foster more connection and hence more cooperation.
In the heat of the moment, when your child is being difficult, the last thing you may want to do is “come alongside” your child and pause to consider his or her point of view. You just want to get out the door on time.
But coming at your child this way is bound to incite even more resistance, waste even more time, and make you even more frustrated.
This just makes parenting harder than it already is. But parenting really can be a joy—for you and your children.
It’s why I’ve teamed up with Flourish—a community of experts dedicated to making your job as a parent so much easier, and your connection with your child as strong as it can be.
When you subscribe to Flourish’s FREE parenting newsletter, you’ll receive truly helpful tips and insights from me and other top experts. Whether you have an infant, grade schooler, teen, or anywhere in between, you’re sure to find advice that will lighten the load. Subscribe and learn:
Think of subscribing to Flourish as a form of “preventive parenting.” Just like with proper preventive medical care, preventive parenting helps you keep things in check—so you don’t have the kid who hates you, or sneaks out, or doesn’t confide in you, or who falls in with the wrong kind of kids in school.
You want your child to stay connected with you—always. And when they’re connected, that’s when they’ll WANT to listen.