You want one thing, your child wants another
We've all been there - you want to do one thing, your child wants to do something else. What do you do? Dr Justin Coulson shares his own recent experiences with his children.
In the past weeks I have had two experiences with my four year old that have reinforced a principle of parenting that nearly everyone gets wrong nearly all the time.
My little girl turned four and to celebrate we went to the zoo. At the end of an exhausting day of walking, we attempted to leave the zoo, but that meant we had to walk through the zoo’s gift shop. This is a deliberate commercial ploy on the part of the zoo; they know that parents are exhausted as they walk through the store to return home. They also know that, as soon as the little kids see that cute little stuffed, overpriced giraffe placed on the shelf at approximately knee height (for adults), said kids are going to go bananas until exhausted parent sighs, hands over the credit card and purchases the toy.
That’s exactly how it happened for us – almost. We entered the shop on our way out of the zoo, utterly exhausted. (My wife was only a week away from having our newest baby.) I walked ahead with the pram and our things so I could pack the car. My wife stuck her head out of the door three minutes later to inform me that Miss Four had suddenly become uncooperative. I returned to discover that my little one would not leave the shop without the overpriced giraffe.
Several mornings ago, the kids asked whether they could take our dog for a quick walk before school. I agreed, confirming they would be back within 10 minutes, and went on with my morning. Ten minutes later they all came back in the door – except my four year old, who was nowhere to be seen. I asked the bigger kids where she was. Their reply: “She wouldn’t come with us. She stayed by the kerb around the corner.” (Fortunately this was only 50 metres away and we live in a quiet area.)
I raced to find my little girl and sure enough, there she was – sitting on the kerb, looking into the gutter. When I called to her and asked her to come home, she looked away from me, again focusing on the ground in front of her.
Whose agenda is it anyway?
In both of those scenarios, many parents would clearly state, “I want you to come with me now”. Alternatively, they might start counting, “One, two, two and a half …”, or they might simply pick up their resistant child and carry her home or to the car. I have watched it happen countless times. It is quick, efficient and it gets the job done.
But there are side effects to this strategy. When we force our children to go with our agenda, we invite tears, tantrums, resistance and chaos. It doesn’t work well – at all.
There is a better way
In the zoo store, I sat on the ground next to my little girl. We talked about the giraffe. We patted its synthetic “fur”. Then we looked at the other toys, as well as the dinosaur onesie, the lion backpack and the animal print drink bottles. We made the sounds and talked about how cool it would be to take them all home. Then I gently explained that we had enjoyed a big day and that today there was no more shopping – but I knew how much she wished we could buy the giraffe. After about five minutes of exploring every toy in the shop, we held hands and walked to the car.
At the kerbside, I sat with my daughter and noticed she was intrigued by a worm in the gutter. We watched it for a moment before I asked where the worm would be happiest. She told me worms belong in the garden so I picked up a leaf, scooped the worm onto it, and asked her to point to the place it should go. We put the worm down and watched it burrow into the dirt. After a minute or two I asked if she was ready to go home yet, to which she replied “yep”, before smiling and walking around the corner and over to our driveway.
I said “Do it NOW!”
By taking one or two minutes to allow my daughter to explore her world and experience what fascinated her, she felt safe and secure. She felt understood. And she was entirely willing to work with me once I’d shown a willingness to work with her. As parents, we often make things harder for ourselves (and our children) by demanding that everything happen the way we want it to. This is ineffective – and often plain rude.
When we respect our child’s agenda, they are more likely to respect ours.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson - a parenting speaker, author, and father of six daughters.
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