Sometimes the harder we try to solve a problem with a child, the worse it gets. For example, when we nag children to hurry and get ready, they drag their heels. The more we demand that they eat a certain food, the more they will resist. In both cases the more they resist, the more we nag and demand. The more we nag and demand, the less they cooperate. This is not likely to have a happy ending.
The good news is that there are better ways to solve parenting problems! If you find yourself getting stuck in your interaction with a child, consider the following.
1. Deal with your feelings
When we are upset or angry, we have a hard time seeing clearly. Anger—and its cousin, frustration—narrow our thinking and flatten our compassion.
When you deal with a parenting challenge, if you feel angry, betrayed, impatient, disgusted, devastated or any other strong feeling, your first job is to put out that fire. When your own feelings are in turmoil, you may find it hard to see your child helpfully.
I learned years ago that I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love—and not in some historical and generic way but here and now. If I’m not feeling love for the child, I need to take a break.
It may help to find a quiet place to relax and breathe deeply. It may help to pray or talk to someone who loves the child. As you feel more peaceful, you are ready to move forward.
2. Manage the way you see your child
When we think of the child as a problem, there is no good solution. When we see the child as doing the best he or she knows how, it will be easier to find good solutions.
As we face challenges with our children, it is good to remember that each child is an amazing and heavenly creation. When we remember the child’s greatest qualities, we are better prepared to turn problems into blessings.
Can you see clearly what his or her best qualities are? What do you enjoy about your child? What makes your child sparkle?
Before we can direct or correct a child, we must value that child. Do you feel loving and appreciative of the child? If so, you’re ready to move forward.
3. Understand what the child is trying to accomplish
People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When a child’s actions do not make sense to us, it is probably because we don’t fully understand the child’s needs and wants.
Even the most troubling behavior has its own logic. Maybe the child is feeling tired or sick. Maybe the child doesn’t know any better. Maybe the child is feeling afraid or lonely. Maybe the child is stressed. Maybe the child wants our attention.
We often misunderstand the child’s behavior because of what’s happening in our lives. Maybe we’re busy, unhappy, frustrated, or tired. Those feelings can keep us from seeing the child’s earnest motives.
When we set aside our own irritation and look at the child with kindness, we may be able to see what the child is trying to accomplish. Maybe a child is not trying to annoy us but simply engage us in his life.
When we are feeling peaceful, loving, and compassionate, we may be able to understand what our child is trying to accomplish. Then we can help her find a good way to get her needs met.
Step 4. Is there a better way?
As parents, we try to help children get what they want—in ways that make sense. For example, children who fuss for our attention should be able to get our attention—but in ways that don’t make us crazy. We might say to a child who is whining for attention, “I would love to talk with you or play with you, but I need you to tell me what you want in ways I can hear.”
Or, if a child has a hard time getting ready for school on time, we can start by figuring out why the child doesn’t get ready. Does the child need more time to wake up? If so, we might go in earlier and gently talk with and pat the child to help wake her up. Does the child find it hard to decide what to wear? If so, we might have the child decide what to wear the night before and lay out the clothes.
We can set our children up for success. There may also be times when we need to teach our child new skills. There may also be times when the key is your own mood—choosing to be patient, positive, and understanding.
5. Try something new.
The problems that have bothered you in the past will surely happen again.
Start with prevention:
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of punishment. What can you do to make problems less likely to occur? How can you change the way you approach the situation? Can you modify the family schedule or rules to fit the child while still keeping reasonable expectations? Do you need to help your child find new ways of getting his or her needs met?
Change the way you react:
When you feel yourself being dragged into a familiar battle with your child, stop. Decide to do something new. Try staying relaxed. Try seeing the child as an amazing and delightful person. Instead of saying or doing what you usually say or do, try listening more carefully. Try understanding your child. If you can’t see a good way to react, maybe you will decide to delay a decision until you have had time to think. Since our usual ways of responding to problems don’t work very well, our best hope for better family life is to try new and better ways.
Learn from problems:
After you have tried your new plan, notice the results. Did it help your child act in ways that are better for him or her and the rest of the family? The successful parents are those who keep trying ideas until they find ones that work with their family. What makes an idea a good one? It is a good idea if it works and if it shows respect to all who are involved.
Problems arise in all families. When you feel stuck, try talking to the wisest and kindest parents you know. Try reading a good book. Pray for help from your heavenly Parent.
As you learn to help your children act in better ways, not only will they become better people, but you will become wiser, more compassionate, and a happier person.
Invitation: Think of a recent challenge you’ve faces with one of your children. Apply the steps in this article to find better ways of responding.
Recommendations: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child; H. Wallace Goddard’s The Soft-Spoken Parent
This article adapted from Parent Guide written for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.