One of the biggest drawbacks with demands is that the child tends to build negative associations with their learning, their self-care, their food or whatever has been demanded of them, especially when followed with negative consequences if they don’t comply.
Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, describes that threats and requests can often sound the same, but can be differentiated by whether the parent becomes intolerant or punitive if the child shows resistance.
Phrases that express a request rather than a demand
“Would you be willing to help with the dinner, and if so, would you prefer to set the table or get some leaves from the garden for the salad?”
“Can you put these toys away before lunch, or would you like my help with it?”
“Do you need me to remind you what needs to be done, or can you tell me?”
“Can I support you to get your room back to being tidy today? What else would you like to achieve today?”
“Let’s all talk about our wants and needs that we want to fit in to this morning.”
Or “We’re all going to do jobs until lunch time, which job would you like to do first?” “Would you like my help in getting started?” Or “Let’s think about how we can make it more fun.”
“I want to support you to fit in both doing your homework and having some down time and connection time with the family before bed time, so let’s make a plan.”
“Honey I see you’re about to go on the computer, let’s think about what time it is now and what needs to be done this evening so you feel more organized before going to school in the morning.”
Requests are much more likely to be received as an expression of care and support, which is dramatically more motivating and encouraging than demands, threats, lectures or nagging.
By guiding in this way, you’re helping your child focus and expand their thinking without criticizing them.
We want our children to be socially responsible, considerate and generous in their contributions because it feels good to them, because it feels right, because they enjoy being part of a system that works well and enjoy the harmony and mutual appreciation of working together and they genuinely enjoy the positive feelings that contributing brings.
And if they still refuse to cooperate, what then ….
- Be willing to accept their “no” with the less important things, because children need to have enough choice and autonomy, which includes being allowed to express their “no’s” if they’re to genuinely enjoy cooperating much of the time. There are many things that children have to do or can’t do regardless of whether it makes sense to them, like brushing teeth and going to bed, so it’s important that we can be flexible in giving them some choice in their world.
- Check your tone of voice. Children get their energy from their connection with us and when that breaks down, it’s like pulling the plug on their power supply. It’s hard for us parents to bring ourselves back to a more calm and level tone again and again, yet the reality is that most kids just can’t operate very well when that connection breaks down. Empathy and connection can help a child let go and move forward to the next thing: “Sometimes it’s really, really hard to stop doing something we enjoy, isn’t it?”
- Sharing our feelings (as long as they’re not expressed with intensity) can help children consider our needs in the situation, and can help them make the adjustment. “I’m feeling worried about whether I’ll get to work on time. Can we work together to leave the house in 15 minutes?”
- Fun and humour makes the next step more inviting: “I can see it’s really hard to stop building. You’ve been working so hard on building your castle, but it’s bath time. Would you like a piggy back?” Or, “It’s time to leave, let’s skip to the car.”
- If resistance has become a pattern, it can be good to invite them to share their feelings at a neutral time making it clear that you’re caring about why they’re finding it hard or choosing not to cooperate. Is there some repair needed following recent conflicts? Or are they generally feeling a bit distant and maybe there’s a need to carve out some quality one on one time to bring back the closeness.
And if they still don’t…It’s very often indicative of the child having some difficult feelings that they need our help releasing and resolving. In which case, we would come back to the task at hand later (if possible) when they’ve had their emotional needs met. If it’s cleaning their room, putting toys away, etc, expand out your time frame on when it needs to happen, and settle in to reconnecting, active listening and making space for the feelings and thoughts that the limit or request has brought up for them.
Whether we stop to consider their feelings and needs as we guide children largely determines whether the interaction will go well or will result in a power struggle or an argument. Even though it can be hard to stop, think and edit what we want to say and imagine how our words and tone will feel for our child on the receiving end, this IS the big work of parenting. Yet the rewards of increased harmony and greater self-discipline for our child as the years go on make it so worth the effort.
Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a certified Aware Parenting Instructor, parent educator, a blogger and public speaker. She’s been parenting with attachment principles from the beginning, her son is 21 and daughter 16. She runs the Peaceful Parent Institute in New Zealand and offers live and online events. Check out her website www.peacefulparent.com.