Have you ever asked your child to do something simple, easy, or routine only for them to respond in a whiny, demanding, or dismissive way? Of course, you have! And if you haven’t reached that stage yet, don’t worry; you will.
- “I don’t want to!”
- “Do I have to go to bed?!”
- “I’ll do it later.”
- <heavy sigh + eye roll>
- “I need a drink first. Can I have something to eat?”
- “Why?! Do I have to?!”
- “One minute! I’m almost done with this game!”
(I’ve threatened to throw games out of the window after hearing that last one for the 50th time.)
Those responses can be a major test to our patience, especially when stress, tiredness, hormones, and hunger come into play.
Have you ever wanted to respond with kindness, but you responded with the Hulk instead?
I have. I’ve been like a tornado that whipped up quickly without warning. Things would get pretty scary for a few minutes, and by the time it was all said and done, there was a clear path of verbal destruction. “Was it an F1 or F5?” That depended on the day. Afterward, I’d attempt to clean up the mess and rebuild with a sincere apology.
The fact is, I lacked self-control and practical parenting skills. Plus, it was my fault that they felt free to respond with whiny, demanding, or dismissive responses. After all, “You teach people how to treat you.”
But it didn’t matter who was at fault. Those responses, especially a day full of them, would wear me down and then suddenly hit a nerve–the last, shaky nerve that was barely hanging in there after a long, hard day. Adrenaline would replace calm with anger, reality became clouded, and my dad’s words would flash through my mind’s eye:
“When you’re angry, you’re temporarily insane. You say and do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
Yep! That’s exactly what was about to go down.
The responsible mom in me would try to stop the escalation.
“Liz, you need to model healthy behavior here. You’re the adult. This is your chance to hold it together, control yourself, and show them how it’s done. There is no need to be angry…no need to yell. They’re kids. This is temporary. Plus, you know you’ll regret it if you give in, let anger into the driver’s seat, and start yelling. Don’t hurt your relationship with your kids. Think of the legacy you’re leaving.”
And then the self-shaming:
“How many times have we been in this exact situation? Why are you still reacting in the same, unhealthy way? There has got to be a better way to handle these situations. Your grandmother had five children and she never raised her voice. Your mother-in-law is always calm like the deep blue ocean. Why aren’t you more like her? You know that repeating the same behavior while expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Girlfriend, you’re there!”
And then the desperation:
“I’m not sure what to do! I want to respond in a healthy way. I want to be a great role model. But I’m tired, I’m frustrated, I feel disrespected, and…do you hear the nonsense I’m hearing…again…for the 50th time?! I don’t know the way out, and at this point, I don’t want a way out!”
All of that would rush through my brain in a matter of seconds, and I’d still end up following (and modeling) the same well-worn, dysfunctional behavior.
We’re often stuck in the same routines. We repeat the same scenes over and over again without being mindful of what could be done to improve the outcomes. And each time, we reflect back with regret and wish we had managed better. The truth is, we can. There is a way. We just need a better strategy. We need tools. And we need to be prepared.
It’s possible to parent without being a Hulk, but if you’re like me, you have to plan ahead.
When our kids were in preschool, the director was a lovely woman–kind, gentle, firm, reliable–with a wise, nurturing soul. She was a role model for so many young moms. So when she shared an article about how to get kids to listen without yelling, I paid close attention.
The article’s author, Pam Kruger, laid out a simple strategy that a psychologist had taught her to use with her daughter who struggles with attention. I instantly saw the value in it (parenting gold) and I regretted that I hadn’t heard about it years before. It amounts to this:
Keep the command simple. Be kind. Count to 15. Repeat as necessary.
Here’s how it works:
- Kindly and firmly let your child know what you want them to do: Example: “It’s 8 o’clock. Please go get ready for bed.”
- If they get up and go the first time you ask, praise them briefly. Congrats! We’re done here! But if they don’t…
- Immediately start to count to 15 in your head (they don’t need to know what you’re doing). Enjoy your quiet time in there. It’s just you and the numbers.
- If they beg, whine, complain, sit there, yawn, procrastinate, or ignore you, it doesn’t matter. Just keep counting. Focus.
- When you get to 15, repeat kindly: “It’s 8 o’clock. Please go get ready for bed.”
- If they get up and go that second time, you’re done! If not, start counting again. Focus on the numbers. Don’t engage or bargain or threaten. Just count.
- When you get to 15, repeat kindly again. “It’s 8 o’clock. Please go get ready for bed.”
And so on.
I know what you’re thinking: “This could go on all night!”
But it won’t. Or not for many nights anyway. In my home, I never had to ask more than three times, and that was just at the beginning when I first tried it out.
I know what you’re thinking: “They should do it the first time.”
Sure! But here’s the thing: After you do this a few times, you won’t have to ask more than once very often. You will have taught them that they are persistent, but that you are more persistent.
Once they know that you can and will stand there until the job gets done, they will stop resisting. They’ll learn that you are kind and firm–an awesome, reliable momma that can be trusted to “say what she means and mean what she says.” And when you’re a mom who will not be whipped up into an emotional tornado, the storm won’t even be able to form.
I know what you’re thinking: “My house is crazy and full of kids. There’s no time to stop and count. I don’t have time for that.”
Find the time if you can, because this is an investment that has the potential to pay off big.
Try to work with one child at a time starting with the one that resists the most. Tell your spouse or the grandparents or your child’s caregivers what you’re working on, and get their help to reinforce it.
Once you establish the new normal, you won’t have to keep working at it. You will have reduced or eliminated yelling, built respect, and you might even have a little fun with it. For sure, you will feel really good, very empowered (in a kind, assertive way), and it will increase your parenting confidence every time you behave like a legit adult.
Knowledge is power. And big improvements often come from simple ideas. A small change to the rudder can make a huge difference in the destination. No matter how old your kids are, you can change to a healthier course.
Give it a try, and let me know how it works for you.