Shear terror comes over me when I realize I have no other choice but to bring all 3 of my small kids along to the grocery store.
If I had a quarter every time I mused the thought, ‘Gosh, If these kids would just listen to me, things would be so much easier!’, to myself (or to my husband), I’d be a rich lady.
Doesn’t it feel like they refuse to listen at the most inconvenient times too?
Really? Must you take a stand on not wearing red shoes NOW? Why not on our way home from preschool?
Power struggles with our kids so easily throw us off track, steering the given situation (and day) toward a disaster zone of nagging, threats and raised voices.
If power struggles or battles for power with your child are stressing you out on a regular basis, you might find hope in what many studies are now telling us, it’s time to start seeing power struggles for what they really are and responding accordingly.
It’s time to give up the ‘struggle’ and take a closer look at what’s really underneath it all, power.
The first step
It feels darn good for me to get a quick response (aka obedience) when I ask my child to put on their shoes or start their homework.
It makes me feel seen, listened to and respected.
The reason it feels so good to be listened to (and so horrible when I’m not listened to!) is because this actually meets one of my vital human needs.
Here’s the thing, my kids (and yours) have this exact same human need.
Your child needs to feel seen, listened to and respected just as much as you do because you and your child are both human and have a need for a healthy sense of control.
In the book ‘The Self Driven Child’ by William Stixrud, PhD and Ned Johnson they uncover and explore extensive research on stress and motivation in human beings (and animals!).
Through their studies and careers in neuropsychology and education, they conclude it’s quite probable “the most stressful thing in the universe” is having a low sense of control.
Feeling powerless in a situation, or in life, is a huge predictor of stress. Yes, this is exactly why we get so emotionally triggered as parents when our kids don’t listen (and when we’re stuck in a traffic jam!).
How to Get Kids to Listen (for the longterm)
If humans hate to feel powerless, just think for a moment about how that might impact your child given the world they live in.
Who decided where your child went to school this morning? What they had for breakfast? Where they’re going after school?
Highly probable that it wasn’t them.
Of course, kids don’t yet have the maturity to fully run their own lives, but it also seems with each passing decade kids have less autonomy and agency over their daily lives (think 80’s parenting vs today’s).
…And what happens when a child isn’t getting their need for healthy control met? Their subconscious prompts them to fight for it.
Simple 2 Step Approach
There is a 2-part answer to the question of how to get kids to listen to you more consistently.
First, expectations are everything. If we operate under the false assumption that your child is a mindless robot you’ll be utterly disappointed every time they reveal their humanity by throwing out a firm “No!” when it’s time to leave the park.
Your child needs to feel a healthy sense of control and autonomy.
When you understand that ‘power struggles’ will happen with every healthy developing child, you can keep your cool and focus your energy on the need that’s driving the behavior, leading us to the second approach.
Look for opportunities to give your child power and leadership throughout the day.
Many studies have shown that a healthy sense of power and control is associated with lower stress, greater emotional well-being and increased internal motivation (among others).
Every human naturally desires to feel agency over their circumstances and surroundings. Here are a few easy ways to meet your child’s need for control and autonomy today.
- Listen and validate when they state their opinion instead of blowing past it with your command “You really wanted to get ice cream today, I totally get why you’re upset”
- Offer simple choices when giving a directive “We have to go to the grocery store, would you like 4 or 5 more minutes to play?
- Ask for feedback on simple things like meal options instead of functioning on ‘parent auto-pilot’
- Let them pick their own clothes and hairstyle
- Let them do things their own way (read: don’t micromanage)
- Let them choose the music
- Let them choose their extracurriculars
- Engage in child-led play
Growing good listeners is a long-term game
When it comes to how to get kids to listen to you, the primary issue isn’t how to handle power struggles or even how to win a power struggle with your child, but how to reduce their frequency in the first place.
Instead of wondering how much easier It’d be if our kids would always blindly listen to us… it’s time to ask ourselves “how much easier would things be if I more regularly listened to my kids?”
What ways have you used to give your kids opportunities for leadership and autonomy in their daily life?
P.S. Some kids have a much greater need for control (ie the strong-willed child!).
If you’re parenting a strong-willed child It might feel like you spend your days engaged in one enormous power struggle! Grab the guide below for more helpful tips and support (and join a community of parents raising strong-willed kids!)
Inside: Beyond school supplies and a new outfit for the first day, it’s easy to miss the one thing kids truly need to have a successful back to school transition.
“I don’t want to go to school mom”.
There was still a good 3 weeks of summer left so my 9-year-olds comment caught me a tad off guard.
I asked her what she was feeling unsure about.
“None of my friends are in my class and what if all the other kids are mean?”
She was right. When we had checked in with other family friends we realized none of her close friends would be in her class for the fourth grade.
She had handled it seemingly well at the time but apparently, after reflecting on what the reality of that was actually going to look like, her anxieties began to set in.
The best way to get your child’s school year started on the right foot
Getting a child prepared for their school year means far more than just buffing up on multiplication facts over the summer.
Clearly, academics are centerstage in school, but there’s another critical piece to your child’s learning, and without it, your child’s school experience will be greatly comprised.
Listening will be more difficult.
Focusing will be more of a challenge.
Memory and cognition will suffer.
So what is this necessary ingredient to school success and well-being?
How learning works in the brain
There’s a reason interactions like the one I had with my daughter occur in millions of households at the start of every school year.
Starting school is BIG transition for kids and just like we adults feel uncertain on the first day of a new job, our kids have anxiety about the uncertainties of the year ahead.
Studies show that when a child’s brain is being affected by anxiety or any strong emotion, the area of their brain responsible for logical thought and cognition (as well as memory!) is compromised as a result.
This is why we ‘can’t think straight’ when we’re upset, worried or under pressure. The frontal cortex or ‘higher thinking brain’ quite literally isn’t as accessible as it would be if your child was emotionally regulated.
Basically, your child’s back to school emotions and learning don’t mix.
Yes, this explains why you blanked on the introduction of your History class speech Freshmen year. As it turns out, neurochemicals and stress hormones are powerful enough to outweigh 3 hours of studying and preparation.
They are also strong enough to high-jack your child’s best efforts at school.
If you want your child to start the school year with their best foot forward, you need to look beyond school supply lists and be intentional in helping your child feel emotionally grounded.
The process of helping your child work through their big emotions is not as overwhelming as it may sound. There are a few basic things you can do throughout the back to school transition that will go a long way towards your child showing up to school at their best.
Having a safe landing place (not just physically but emotionally!) is crucial for your child to feel supported and confident in school. While we only hear about attachment in the infant years, nothing changes after infancy. A secure attachment to a caregiver still provides your child with a safe emotional base to explore from!
Finding at least a small amount of time each day to set down your phone to be present with your child will help to meet their need for love and attunement.
Your child will learn much more effectively when their basic needs are accounted for (it’s not a coincidence that safety/security and love/belonging are considered two primary basic needs for a human!)
Creating rituals to help ease separation anxiety is another wonderful way to keep the parent-child bond strong and provide a relational buffer for your child’s back to emotions.
Some ideas for rituals that establish connection and bonding:
- special handshake to use right before and after reconnecting
- your child gets to pick a special meal for the night before school
- giving your child something of yours they can bring to school and use as a physical comfort (ie scarf, bracelet, hair tye etc)
- put a picture of your family in their art box (check out the awesome idea from Coffee and Carpool)
- create a mantra your child can repeat the first day to give them confidence
- go on a back to school shopping date together
- leave lunchbox notes (or these adorable laugh notes!) for them to help them feel loved at lunch
Give them a safe place to talk
As parents, we all fall into that the trap of talking way more than we listen when it comes to interacting with our child.
Kids can feel if you’re truly present or just going through the motions when you drop the “how was school today” question.
Ask thoughtful open-ended questions and give them time and space to share their thoughts and feelings. Help them identify the emotions they are feeling (these emotions flashcards and visuals are a fantastic resource for doing this) This is a time to just listen and empathize, not to judge, freak out or teach a life lesson.
Being listened to and feeling understood is deeply therapeutic for your child and plants essential seeds for raising an emotionally intelligent child.
Being intentional with preparation
Kids are concrete thinkers and need a little help when it comes to grasping complex subjects like back to school timelines. There are lots of ways to make preparing for the school year fun and more concrete:
- making a back to school countdown calendar or paper chain
- bring your child to get clothing, lunch groceries, supplies for school etc
- role-playing school scenarios such as lunchtime for younger kiddos
- visiting the classroom and teacher ahead of time
- reading books about school to your child
- making a list of questions your child has about school
- write a story with your child about the school day
Allow your child some control
A very powerful component of managing stress for humans is feeling some degree of agency or control over your life. Allowing your child to help with simple decisions such as first-day outfits, backpack designs or what he wants for lunch will go far to help him feel more secure in an overwhelming situation.
Empowering your child with reasonable opportunities for decision making greatly helps to lower a child’s anxiety
Be an encourager
Listen to your child’s concerns but seize opportunities to breathe confidence and excitement into conversations. Find out what their favorite parts of school are and tell them the strengths you see developing in them each year!
When concerns arise, instead of jumping in with proposed solutions to their concerns take the opportunity to collaborate and problem-solve together.
“Sounds like you’re worried you won’t have anyone to eat lunch with. Why don’t we talk about a plan for how to join in?”
Many times your child will be able to come up with solutions if prompted and given some time to reflect. The act of doing this helps redirect your child’s negative thinking (which sends a direct invitation for anxiety to come to the party!) into positive, rational thinking.
This is the groundwork for what’s known as ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ and is a powerful way to combat stress and boost confidence.
The secret to an awesome school year starts with you
Feeling confident and emotionally prepared to handle the ups and downs of school is essential in order for your child to perform at their best at school.
Without a doubt, your child’s mental health and emotional well-being deserve a spot up on stage right alongside math and reading.
With a foundation of emotional intelligence and a strong parent-child relationship, you’ll be setting up your child for their best year ever.
What back-to-school traditions do you have that help ease the transition for your child?
Other articles you’d like:
Everyday Ways to Improve your Child’s Mood and Behavior
Inside: Time kids spend outdoors in nature play has been steadily declining for decades and it’s costing them enormously when it comes to their physical and mental health.
I feel my shoulders relax.
My lungs open up and I breathe.
I just feel… lighter.
And all I have done is to simply step out my own front door.
THIS is the power of being in nature. After only a brief few moments in nature, I can literally feel the onslaught of positive changes in my mind and body.
There is something incredibly powerful that nature and nature only is capable of doing to our minds and bodies. Since the beginning of time, humans have been closely connected to the natural environment.
We lived off the land and often used natural spaces as a natural extension of our homes. Many cultures remain close to the natural world and as a result, reap profound benefits to both their physical and psychological health.
In our Western modern culture, however, our kids are growing evermore disconnected from their natural environment and researchers have gone far enough to call this phenomenon ‘Nature deficit disorder’.
Studies show that while screentime and indoor time have increased for children, time spent outdoors in nature play has dramatically decreased.
The proof of nature play is in the research
It’s been hard to say exactly what the direct impacts of decreased green time on children were, but we now have the first epidemiological studies that show an association between less contact with the natural world in childhood and worse mental health in adulthood.
“Collecting data from nearly 3,600 individuals in four different European countries, researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health have found that these childhood experiences are associated with feelings of nervousness and depression in adulthood.
“The results show that participants who scored lower on the mental health tests also had less exposure to nature in childhood, and this was true regardless of how much time they spent in nature as adults. What’s more, these participants didn’t seem to place as much significance on natural spaces in general.” (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
This is just one of several studies now showing causation between more time spent playing in nature during childhood and mental health in adulthood.
Another recent study found that children who grow up in natural surroundings have up to a 55 percent lower risk of developing a mental disorder as an adult.
The studies author Kristine Engemann reported further that “the protective effect grows stronger with more years spent living near nature. We found that association was stronger when we calculated a cumulative measure of green space from birth to age 10 compared to measuring green space at one single year, this indicates that the positive association builds up over time and that being exposed to green space throughout childhood is important.” (Study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
The positive effects of nature play for children go far beyond psychological. Nature has been proven important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically (Kellert, 2005).
40 amazing benefits of nature play for kids.
Mental and Emotional Health
- Improves cognition and thinking
- Increases focus
- bolsters resilience against stress
- Increases mood
- Decreases anxiety
- Builds confidence
- Provides regulation sensory input for the nervous system
- Builds mindfulness skills
- Improves short term memory
- Decreases anger
- Reduces ADHD symptoms
- Boosts confidence
- Improved self-regulation skills
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased rates of obesity
- Provides sensory stimuli
- Increases energy levels
- Increases vitamin D levels
- Reduced risk of bone disease
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Improves nutrition
- Improves eyesight
- Improves balance
- Improves range of movement
- Promotes muscle development
- strengthens immune system
- Higher levels of creativity
- Increases appreciation and regard for the environment
- Builds imagination
- Teaches responsibility
- Creates opportunities for awe and wonder
- Encourages healthy risk-taking
- Promotes experimentation
- Develops critical thinking skills
- Improves social skills
- Improves self-discipline
- Develops empathy
- Promotes a deeper understanding of the world
- Increase life satisfaction
- Increases levels of kindness
Every child desperately needs nature play
There’s no denying we have some work to do when it comes to getting our kids outside. For both their mental and physical health and well-being, we now know for a fact that getting back to our nature roots plays a powerful role in combating mental health conditions and serves as an enormous protective factor for our children.
What are you child’s favorite types of nature play?
More articles you’d like:
Inside: Learn how to help your child control their anger with the 50 Best Anger Management Tools for Kids from a Child Therapist.
I’m unloading the dishwasher listening to my four and seven-year-olds playing in the next room. I smile as I hear my creative little beings choreographing another dance ‘recital’ in the living room.
I start thinking how much I loathe unloading the dishwasher and ponder what we’ll have for dinner when loud shrieks cut through the air.
Inside: Discover 7 quick and easy anger management activities for kids from a child therapist you can do with no preparation that help build healthy coping skills.
Unmanaged anger holds the potential to derail a day, a week or a life.
Giving our child a kick start to an emotionally healthy and grounded future means helping them to better understand and manage their emotions.
For most parents, helping their child deal with anger is at the top of this list.
Inside: If you’re raising an angry child, learning the underlying causes of your child’s anger is the first step in anger management for kids.
Anger loves to trick us.
In childhood, the anger of others made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. In adolescence, my own anger enabled me to feel powerful and strong and in parenthood anger allows me to feel a sense of control amidst the chaos.
Inside: Learn essential strategies for helping a child deal with anger and why research shows them to be effective throughout life, from a child therapist.
A few times a month my 4-year-old plods down the stairs in his pull-up promptly inquiring “can I please have a piece of my candy for breakfast?”
Really? You don’t remember my response the last 23 times you’ve asked this question at 6:30 in the morning?
Inside: Many parents strive for positive parenting but aren’t sure how to implement positive discipline strategies for the most challenging child behaviors.
The path to positive discipline is not a straight one.
If you’re hustling hard after positive parenting but feel like you fall short in times of stress you’re not alone.
It’s much easier to be a mindful and conscious parent when things are going as planned and your kids are not launching things at each other’s heads during a road trip to Florida for Spring Break (this may or may not have happened to me yesterday).
It’s only natural you’d be triggered by your child’s challenging behaviors because you‘re human.
You also know from recent neuroscience that positive discipline is the most effective and emotionally healthy way to improve child behavior in a long-term and meaningful way.
So how do you tackle your child’s tough behaviors in a respectful and effective way when stress is high and patience is low?
The Key to Positive Discipline Success
When your oldest child is picking on their younger sibling or your toddler smacks you in a fit of anger, your brain automatically goes into ‘reactive parent-stress mode’ due to your (healthy and mostly handy if you need protection from danger) limbic system.
What your healthy limbic system does not do is make it easy to stay calm, logical and respond to your struggling child’s underlying needs with the positive parenting skills you strive for.
The key to successfully implementing positive discipline is to have a plan in place before you’re stuck in the heat of your fight or fight response.
It’d be lovely if there was a one-size-fits-all formula for disciplining a child, but humans and their behavior is just more complicated than that.
In an effort to simplify where we can, here’s 12 of the most common child behaviors parents struggle to implement positive discipline with and a collection of solutions grounded in positive discipline principles.
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Common challenging behaviors and how to respond with positive discipline strategies
Do phrases like “you never let me do anything!” and “it’s not fair!” leave you feeling frustrated and ready to snap? It’s way too easy to take these comments personally when in reality, they have little to do with us.
Check out how to handle these common complaints from kids with grace from A Military Wife and Mom, 10 Powerful Responses when Your Child Whines or Complains.
When it comes to how to discipline a toddler, handing the dreaded ‘temper tantrum’ during the toddler and pre-schooler years is a must-know skill.
Positive Parenting Connection gives light to why kids have emotional outbursts as well as parent do’s and don’ts in What Really Works to Help Children with Tantrums.
Taking the kids with you to the store is already overwhelming enough…then cue the begging and pestering!
Here’s an amazing idea to address your child’s pestering in a respectful and sanity-saving way from Happy You Happy Family, A Simple Trick to Run Errands with No Whining From Your Kids
|Giving up Easily
For some kids, perseverance and resilience come easy, and for others, it is a much different story. Here are research-based strategies from A Fine Parent that help you teach what your child really needs in these frustrating moments, confidence.
Feel like your kid won’t listen until you start to yell? It might work in the moment but then we all know… it sets up a precedent of yelling which is detrimental to what you’re trying to accomplish with positive parenting techniques.
Here are 5 tips that inspire a child to listen: How to Get Your Child to Listen Without Yelling
Defiance is the number one trigger for many parents! This age by age guide on understanding and handling defiance with positive discipline from Aha Parenting will have you feeling cool as a cucumber the next time your child throws out “you’re not the boss of me!”. Handling Defiance: You’re Not the Boss of Me!
This article from Parenting From the Heart outlines a great strategy for approaching back-talk and arguing with your child that takes a few extra minutes up front but saves you many more minutes of wasted time with ineffective lectures and nagging, How to Stop Balk-talk and Restore Peace in Your Family
Handling aggression with positive discipline is not easy when parenting toddlers or older children. Aggressive behaviors are jarring for parents and kick us quickly into our bodies own stress response.
Here’s a 5-step plan (with examples) from Rebecca Eanes that leads you through how to discipline a child showing aggression with positive discipline strategies, How to Be A Positive Parent with an Aggressive Child.
Learn a step-by-step framework for helping your kids get the root of their conflict from Imperfect Families and the best part… you’ll also be helping them learn to work things out on their own in the long-term!
At the end of the day we’re at the end of our rope. That doesn’t mean our child doesn’t need us to be present and supportive.
This is a super helpful insight on bedtime stress from Your Modern Family, highlighting how bedtime issues can often be traced back to separation anxiety. Here’s how to help, Nighttime Separation Anxiety- 8 Tips to Help them Sleep.
Hearing your child say negative and defeatist comments like “I’m so stupid” or “nobody likes me” is heartbreaking and can be a tricky thing to address.
This article from Nurture and Thrive helps you support your child in these very moments and also turn it into something more positive and productive, How to Help Turn Your Child’s Negative Self-Talk into Kindness
It’s way too easy to make a mountain out of a molehill when our kids are less than honest with us. Don’t fret- these 7 tips from Positive Parenting Solutions make it much less stressful to address when your child is dishonest.
If Positive Discipline is hard you’re doing it right
Helping guide your child with positive discipline is much more about fostering a strong bond with your child, growing your understanding of your child and establishing limits and boundaries in a culture of respect, and much less about a set formula or strict guidelines.
As parents and humans, we want answers and we want them now. If only there were a simple formula for growing a well-adjusted human!
When we trust the vast power of connection, modeling and child development while grasping the true meaning of discipline (teaching not punishing) when we approach our child’s challenging behaviors, we’ll be off to a darn good start.
Other articles you’d like:
Inside: Learn the most common oversight when it comes to disciplining a child and how shifting your perspective on your child’s behaviors will help improve them.
I think most of us would like to consider ourselves ‘the glass is half full’ kind of people.
I’ve always been more of an optimist, having this solidified while sitting in Fraser Hall twenty (gulp) years ago while taking my Philosophy 101 class.
Our teacher discussed two basic outlooks on humanity and how these perceptions held the potential to affect our thinking: humans were inherently good but sometimes do bad things OR humans were inherently evil and sometimes do good things.