Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Why should I?

When a parent asks a child to do something and the child resists or refuses, the parent may interpret this as the child being disrespectful or disobedient. Some parents come from a place of authority that sees "Because I said so, that's why!" or "Don't ask questions, just do as you're told," as reasonable responses to a child's question of why they need to do something.

When a child resists or refuses to do something it is an opportunity for us to look at how and what we are asking. Perhaps the problem isn't with our child and his or her seeming unwillingness to cooperate. The problem may lie with what we are asking. Is this something the child really needs to do? Are we asking them to do something because we don't want to do it ourselves? Are we asking the child to do something that makes them uncomfortable, afraid, or anxious? There may also be a problem with how we are asking. Are we actually making a request, or are we making a demand or giving an order? If we are making a request then we should be able to accept "no" as a possible response. "Yes" or "I am doing something else right now, and I will do that later" are also options. Sometimes the child's response may have little to do with our request and more to do with something else that is going on in their life.

Perhaps the real problem is that parents often do not stop and find out why the child does not want to do what has been requested. When a child says "No!" there is a reason. Parents seem to have been conditioned to view children's negative responses as being willful, disobedient, stubborn, strong willed, challenging, testing the limits, being difficult, or attributed to a certain age group - two years old and teens in particular. Parent's willingness to dismiss a child's behavior as "she's just being difficult" is a failure to recognize that children do not wake up in the morning saying "Today I'm just going to be difficult." "My life as a child isn't challenging enough. Today I think I'll be extra difficult so that my parents will get really frustrated with me and end up punishing me for my behavior."

If a child is not doing what we want him to do it's time to work together to figure out why. It is not time to make threats and demands and dole out punishments for lack of compliance. Ultimately children's behavior is tied to their needs. If their needs are not being met they will do whatever they can, with the resources they have, to get them met. If a child feels a lack of control over their own life they will grab control of whatever they can. Often with young children this involves controlling bodily functions: using the potty or not, eating or not, and sleeping or not. If children feel a lack of control or power in their life saying "No!" may be a way that they are trying to gain some control. However, the "why" may be something else. A child may not want to wear a certain piece of clothing because the tag itches. She may not want to wear a jacket because it makes her feel constrained. He may not want to go to a friend's house because a dog there scared him the last time he visited. He may not want to leave the house because he is worried about missing a favorite TV show. She may not want to eat a certain food because the texture is icky in her mouth. She may not want to go swimming because she saw an advertisement for "Shark Week" on TV. We won't know why unless we take the time to figure it out. And, if we don't take the time to figure it out we are missing an opportunity to connect with our child.

Finding out the why behind the "No!" or "Why should I?" or "I don't want to," helps us support our children as they explore the world. We are able to validate their feelings and problem solve if needed. When we listen to them we learn more about who they are, what they like, what they don't like, and what helps them feel confident and comfortable. If we avoid using punishments, praise, threats, and other forms of manipulation to extract compliance from our child, we are free to develop a relationship that allows for honest trust filled communication. If children learn that obedience is required, or that compliance will be extracted from them through any means necessary, they will stop trying to communicate the why of their refusals. They will learn to stuff their feelings, hide their fears and to do what other people tell them to do without question. They will accept that how they feel, what they need, and who they are is not as important as what we want them to do. When we take the time to discuss what needs to be done, or if something needs to be done, or how something could be done differently, if we listen to how our children feel about something we think they should do, our children learn to express how they feel and how to constructively get their needs met.

When we take the time to find out what is really going on, our child will learn that who they are is more important than our need to control them and their behavior. When we let go of our need to control our children and their behavior we create space for a relationship based on connection, unconditional love and trust filled communication. And that is the Why behind the way that I choose to interact with my children.

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