You may already use subtle persuading techniques: reward charts, traffic light systems and threats of privileges being removed. But what happens if this doesn’t work? What can we do when dealing with stubborn kids.
It may be worth first though having a check for what you are already doing. Not so much in the mechanics of reward charts etc (I’m pretty sure you know how to put a sticker on a reward chart) but in the delivery. For example, are we using the system consistently? Are we clear on what good behaviour is, and are we rewarding fully the behaviour we want to see?
You have a ‘leak’ in your system that has eroded your child’s trust and belief in the system.
Take a moment to check in with yourself and make sure that you stick by the rules you set, whether you have one child or more. Make sure you’re not eroding your system by being inconsistent. Are you giving lots of warning and not enough follow through? When we see good behaviour, are we genuinely praising them or is it a casual remark? Do we forget to move them up or down their reward charts, not following through on our decision? These discrepancies can lead to stubborn kids
What I’m offering for you to consider is whether you have a ‘leak’ in your system that has eroded your child’s trust and belief in the system.
Look back over conflicts, check and make sure that you’ve not contributed to the problem
However it may be your partner or others in your support network who are undermining your efforts. Are grandparents not aware or undermining what you want to have happen? If this is true for you then this is a conversation that you need to have.
You can also look back over conflicts, check and make sure that you’ve not contributed to the problem. Maybe you should have left earlier and added in more time? This frustration can overspill and the child may not be so aware that it’s time to go. Or perhaps you are wound up by something unrelated and conflict gets centred more around the principle than the actual point of what you want? Is your child kicking off because you’re not coming from the best head space?
These are all worth considering, you may find that one or two are accurate and with just soft adjustments it may go a long way to help.
With that said, there are some language tricks that can be very effective in getting kids to cooperate.
Often conflict arises when the other person feels they have no choice. One solution around this is to provide them with a selection that still meets your needs.
Here are some examples:
Getting out of the house:
Did you want to put your coat on first, or your shoes?
Would you like to go to bed now or in 5 minutes?
Did you want to eat the carrots or the peas first?
I hope you get the drift. I know it can help in lots of occasions that would otherwise result in some conflict.
I’ll also add a personal favourite that still works, even for my 11 year old.
“How quickly can you get upstairs to brush your teeth?”
“Who’s the first to get upstairs and ready for bed?”
My kids hear this and they are up those stairs in seconds. It’s so effective that it’s like you are the master of some dark mind magic.
UPDATE: I’ve only just noticed that when I now say bedtime, one of them will often say “I’m the first up the stairs!” and rush off followed quickly by their siblings.
You might also like to try a sentence with this phrase at the beginning:
“How easy is it …
“…for you to come and help me?”
“…to start your homework?”
This sentence preloads the action as being easy. This then weighs the child’s response in favour of complying as we are often happy to do something that is easy.
Say what you want them to do, avoid telling them what you don’t want them to do. How we phrase things can make a huge impact and this is just a neat trick that refines your own language and has the side benefit of helping you focus away from the negative. Look for the chances to remove ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’ and rephrase without using ‘not’.
‘Don’t make a mess’ becomes ‘Keep it tidy’.
‘Don’t run’ becomes ‘Stop running’.
‘Can’t you stop doing that?’ becomes ‘What else can you do?’
Taking it up a gear, this sentence works wonders:
“I do not want you to go and wash your hands for dinner.”
My three laugh and rush to wash their hands. Kids often love doing what they are told not to. In addition children don’t often process the ‘not’ and simple focus on the instruction part of the sentence. How often have you said or heard said: don’t run (and they run); don’t fall (and they fall).
We experience a psychological effect when we are asked to do a favour for someone. More often than not, we look to comply and help. When needed I’ve used it to stop a situation from escalating, especially as the request interrupts the developing pattern of negative behaviour.
It can be as simple as: “Could you pass me the broom please?”
Note: you could use ‘can’ in place of ‘could’, however ‘could’ contains the element of choice and is therefore less direct.
“Could you help me carry the bag into the house?”
“Could you do me a favour and open the door please?”
Invite them to look beyond what you want them to do and highlight the benefit. You soften their attention from what you want them to do by focusing on the reward of the action.
It’s just a subtle language shift yet it can alter the course of a potential conflict and focus on solutions.
It’s useful to note that these phrases can be mixed together. They are not static so feel free to use them dynamically, for example:
“When you open the door for me we can have a drink.”
“When you’ve finished your homework, could you help me with the baking?”
While there is no guarantee that you’ll get the response you want every time, you are now a little better ‘tooled up’ with options that may help alleviate a challenging situation.
Play around with these ideas and see what works and feels right for you. Let me know how you get on!
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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