By Dr. Laura Markham
Most of the time when kids don’t do the right thing, it’s not because they don’t know what the right thing is. It’s because they choose something else. In other words, they have another priority. So start with modelling, guidance, family habits of compassion and repair, as detailed in our last post. Then, use these five strategies to help your child WANT to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
1. Stay connected
When kids don’t follow our lead and our rules, it’s often because they feel disconnected. So why should they give up what they want, to do what you want?
Because we love our children, we often forget that it’s easy for them to feel disconnected from us after a day apart. Why not turn off your phone, forget about your list, and spend fifteen minutes just being fully present and loving with your child? Resist teaching or correcting; just appreciate your child.
When kids don’t follow our lead and our rules, it’s often because they feel disconnected.
Repeat daily. I predict that within a few days, your child will be “choosing” to cooperate with you much more. When children WANT to follow our lead, they’re more likely to make choices in accordance with the values we’ve taught and modelled — whether we’re with them or not.
2. Make sure your limits are reasonable and age-appropriate
If your limits feel too strict, kids look for work-arounds or give up on pleasing you, and strong-willed kids just become rebels. So help your child succeed in feeling like a good person who gets pleasure out of choosing to do the right thing, by setting limits that your child can follow successfully.
Train yourself to set your limits with empathy, which means you hold to your expectations, while offering understanding that your child doesn’t like the limit. The limits teach kids what’s right. The empathy makes the limits palatable so your child is more likely to accept them.
Train yourself to set your limits with empathy, which means you hold to your expectations, while offering understanding that your child doesn’t like the limit.
That means you’ll be saying some version of this over and over all day long: “You wish you could….. I hear you. Right now, you can’t. I know that feels hard. I understand. You can handle this. I’ll help. Let’s work together to make this work.” That may sound like a lot of effort, but it’s more motivating for your child than threats and will feel a lot better for you. And it won’t take long for your child to stop fighting your limits and start looking for win-win solutions.
Giving up what they want in the moment, for something they want more (that warm relationship with you) is what helps children develop self discipline. That’s a key skill when they need to make hard choices.