Now look what you’ve done!!

Posted by Samantha on December 3, 2012 in Boundaries, Discipline, Mistakes, Parenting Dilemmas, Respect, Rules |

We must teach them to listen to us. Otherwise we can’t keep them safe.

Last week I had a question from a parent wondering  what to do about a five year old girl who ignored her mother’s requests to stop playing with a snow-globe in the home of someone they were visiting.

Fearing a breakage, this Mum upped her requests to a clear (and no doubt reasonable) insistence that her daughter give her the glass ball.

However, instead of listening to Mum and cooperating, she ran away and moments later the sound of smashing glass was heard from another room.

It is difficult for many parents to know what to do in a situation like this.

The odds are stacked against us parenting well in these moments because our emotions are likely to be running high.  Our rational, thinking brain – the part we need to respond well – is in severe danger of being hijacked by the parts of our brain that deal in survival reactions (fight, flight or freeze) and high emotion.

Feelings of anger, frustration, shock, embarrassment, shame, exhaustion, guilt or fury can run high.

Every parent will have their own characteristic ways of dealing with such situations.  However, if you have a child who is more determined than average to make all their own decisions – regardless of ability or sense – you are probably more used to this scenario than the average parent!

This five-year old girl sounds like a spirited child.

Her Mum tries to be firm and to “take no nonsense” but nothing seems to work.  This is a common complaint from the parents of spirited children.

These children need very clear boundaries.  They need clear and fair (i.e. logical & related) consequences for violating them.  The consequences should not just be Mummy or Daddy losing the plot!

At the same time, they need buckets and buckets of patience and gentleness – often more than a parent has to give!  And yet if we don’t somehow find it in us to be as patient and loving as they need us to be, things spiral downwards because kids like this are temperamentally driven to fight us.

The answer lies in a balanced approach.  It’s about being in charge without fighting to be in control.

Spirited children tend to resist all efforts to control them!

A mantra like “Don’t fight and don’t give in” is invaluable.  Any parent can silently repeat this to themselves as they deal with any situation that comes up – and as we know, those situations will come up!

Resources like my CDs / downloads on power struggles and tantrums are helpful as they explain a lot about how kids brains work.  They also make loads of suggestions for how to manage family life in a way that keeps resistance to a minimum so that “snow-globe situations” come up less often.

You can also take a look at my discipline, boundaries and empathy blog sections.

Because it can be helpful to know that we are not alone, if you have a spirited child you may enjoy reading about my experience of actually doing boundaries and discipline with my spirited 6 year old daughter.

Best of luck!!

ps – incidentally, I believe that all families would benefit from a clear rule that says children are meant to do what parents say.  Yes, we must be careful to speak kindly and respectfully to our children and to allow them appropriate levels of autonomy for their age.  But it is not to any child’s benefit to grow up without the clear awareness that children are supposed to listen to adults, not because we said so, but because it is the right thing to do.


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