I'm not perfect and neither are my kids. Just want to say that up front, because I squirm when people think (or think that I think) I'm somehow better than they are. Reality is that I research a lot, read a lot, and over-think a lot, and eventually settle down to a useful pattern. Mostly. It takes me a while sometimes. I also knee-jerk react, then back up and respond, often a bit too late. So, I'm human, even if I'm not typical (I do admit to not being typical).
Back to the topic.
I've always had an issue with Compliance. That is, 'because I told you to' demands. I first noticed this issue when I realized that my kids weren't good at compliance. They just would not jump to it, leap to do my bidding, serve my wishes without complaint (or even respond to my true needs). As I thought about this, I realized that tucked neatly under my frustration and outrage over their noncompliance was the simple fact that I am not a compliant person, either. I sucked at compliance as a child, and I learned early that my greatest power with my parents came from creative non-compliance. They could try to make me, but really - I'd rather take the punishment, including some severe spankings that crossed the technical definition into abuse, than subsume my will. I learned some valuable things from that, but not always in useful ways. This is me, I am my own person. You can hit me but you cannot touch me. Negotiation was a skill I learned later, but I started out solidly on the side of 'try and make me' followed by them taking up the offer. Mainly, they couldn't. It was only after they gave up trying that I became willing. I taught them to stop forcing, for most things. The spankings stopped because they simply didn't work.
It is funny, given how useless it was to try to bend me to their will, that I have a strong desire to be just like my parents - demanding compliance everywhere. But I guess we repeat what didn't work, in order to resolve the conflict in ourselves.
Toddlers and preschoolers are particularly difficult with this issue, because they do not care that you want them to do something or stop doing something, and they often don't really care why. There is only the Now. There is only Them. Parents are an extension of self, or a barrier to their drives, randomly. Parents are the great No-sayers, the ones who prevent one from learning that we can fly (not 'if' but 'that' - certainly when I was leaping off the sofa it was because it was flying).
Threats do work, at times. But they lose their effectiveness over time, and then we have to figure out a new way, and meanwhile, they have learned how to use them on us (and everyone else). So we end up having handed them a stick they can use on others, and the only way to keep using it on them is to go for bigger and bigger sticks, and eventually theirs are bigger than ours, too, and they have even less compunction about using them.
So, now what? Situation still exists - I have a problem, and I need something from my child to solve the problem (or at least I think I do), and my child just will. not. comply.
I'm a big fan of Maria Montessori because she was a scientist. Formulate and test the hypothesis, using direct observation, relying on both previous (quality) research and one's own critical thinking skills. Revise and repeat.
So, we do the cycle - observe the situation, formulate a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, observe the results, revise the hypothesis. Repeat repeat repeat. We can shortcut this a bit by working from resources that already exist (see the Parenting Bookshelf link at the upper left). But we still have to observe our lives, our selves, and our kids to get it just right. Or mostly right, anyway. And skipping compliance is the first step. It isn't about having them cease interfering in our path, it is about having them join us and help us along the way. Not compliance, but cooperation, teamwork, mutuality, consideration.
Methods that work:
- Listen. Reflective listening, active listening, call it what you want. It's listening while keeping ourselves out of the mix. Not listen and then answer as if it was a question, lecture based on what we think they don't understand and need to know NOW, explain or logic or analyze back, react emotionally from our own history or wounds, or rationalize our original demand. Just listen, and then prove that I heard by repeating it back in my own words, with no loading, sarcasm, attitude, resentment, or dismay. Listening and reflecting as if our only job is to understand and commiserate, and not to get them to meet some other goal (cough-COMPLIANCE-cough). When the reason for resistance to our request is feelings-based, or if there's an alternate need in there that is competing, listening and reflecting so they know we're listening is a good first step. An astonishing portion of the time, this is all we need to do. Once I know what they feel, and have restated it calmly and compassionately, I'm really on their team again. Even if I'm still trying to meet my needs with what I'm asking of them, there's something about stating their feelings and needs back to them, hearing them in my own words, that makes it easier for me to consider another route that would meet everyone's needs. And there's something about knowing that someone else understands that makes us all feel more like making that person's life easier. Even kids. Try: Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation or Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming Parent-child Relationships from Reaction And Struggle to Freedom, Power And Joy for techniques for listening effectively.
- Ask. The answer to the resistance can be as simple as asking (calmly), 'why don't you want to?' Yes, sometimes the answer is, 'Because! I don't!' Sometimes, though, the answer is really useful information. More and more often the answer is useful, at least after this skill is practiced on both sides. (I tend to get more 'Because I don't!' answers when I've been modeling useless answers to their questions and requests.) If I have that useful information, I can just sort the things we each need into a new pattern to get cooperation. If the NO POTTY answer is to do with fear, or interruption of the flow of play, or not wanting to be singled out for an activity, or feeling certain that their body says it doesn't NEED to go potty before getting in the car, those can all be addressed. If I didn't ask, I can't answer their need effectively, and so my problem remains unsolved because their problem remains unsolved. Other useful questions: "I don't understand, can you explain?" "How can I help?" "What do you need?" "Can you tell me more?" Combining this with listening (with more on the listening and less on the asking) can be enlightening.
- Establish common ground. Problem on the other side of the line, me and child on this side of the line. We're a team, we can solve it together. Common ground also means showing that we have the same problems, we understand the whole problem, we can relate. I hate doing things just because it's the rules, unless I understand why the rule is there. My kids are split between needing to understand the value of the rule, and knowing it applies equally to everyone. So, yes, we ALL go use the bathroom before we get in the car, and the grownups make it clear they have done so. Then the kids recognize it as a universal rule. Likewise, we put on our seatbelts and note that they're not always comfortable for us, either, but we do it because it is both safe and the law. Etc. We're all in this together makes it harder to set up resistance - what is there to resist?
- Blame inanimate objects. Ah, the timer says. The clock says it is time for bed. The timer says it is time to turn off the computer. The alarm clock says it is time to get up. Not that I want my kids to be utterly ruled by the clock, but there are many aspects of our lives that are ruled by the clock - appointments, classes, weddings, anything you need to be at on time... The clock can't be whined at, it just never changes its mind. Time keeps going, relentless, boring, impersonal. I haven't employed stuffed toys, but I hear that works, too. Dolly is tired and wants you to come sleep next to her...
- Be silly. Playful Parenting is one of the books on my to-read list. I've found just knowing the gist of it has been a help, though. Sometimes the 'kitty' will use the potty or brush her teeth when Miss M will not. A silly voice request will get giggles and compliance. We've stopped complaining about whining so much (mostly) and now complain about mooing, complete with dramatic looking around for cows (not sarcastically - it usually ends up in fits of the giggles, which is the goal). When I'm getting frustrated, I will throw in an unexpected word to break the tension (yeah, Booger again, or anything out of context). If I can change the mood to a positive one, I can change the resistance. Sometimes.
- Try Silence. Just stopping and not saying anything for a few moments, while I calm myself down and they stare at me stubbornly, can do wonders. More if I toss in just a bit of silly (I sometimes tip my chin down and look at them over my glasses sternly, then wiggle my eyebrows). I can often get more cooperation if I can get them to change their emotional state. Also, some kids hate to be asked how they're feeling or what they need. They want you to observe more and talk less, or to just be with them while they work it out. Silence, in a companionable way, can really help. Practice noticing if you always fill up all gaps with words.
- Offer to help or ask if they need help. A lot of morning resistance is because when they're sleepy, they seem younger (emotionally), and return to needing companionship and assistance with everything. Schedule accordingly. Yes, we're a Montessori-heavy home, but that doesn't mean we are adamant that they always do what they know how to do. We also know how to work as a team, help each other, play the process like a game. CAVEAT: I've learned the hard way to keep any 'doing for/helping' as a teamwork thing, not a 'do-for-me-entirely/mommy-does-while-I-pretend-I'm-inanimate' thing -- when it is teamwork, I can shift it back to you do it yourself more readily. Not so far a leap, that way. When it is me doing it all, even just using the words to indicate that I'm doing it for them (or worse, to them), they resist moving the activity back to their side of the line. So, even if I'm physically putting on their clothes, I tell them I'm only helping them, we're getting them dressed together, and note the things they do that help (down to calling the floppy-arms bit 'relaxed' - parenting spin works!).
- Filter for importance. How important is this thing I'm asking? Because everyone has a certain tolerance limit for cooperation with someone else's agenda, and if we drain it on the unimportant stuff... well, it's a waste. This is really 'pick your battles' - but flip the words to pick your core issues. Battles just suggests that it's us vs. them, and it isn't usually us vs. them. It's effort, yes, but cooperation means working together, rather than just demanding compliance while they stubbornly resist our superior knowledge and power. Safe Respectful Kind, Effective Prudent True, Acceptant Loving Faithful. Those are my filters. If it makes it through, I'm holding to it, but I can hold to it WITH them rather than AGAINST them. I will often come up against resistance in myself when I'm trying to filter. I get stuck, say, on respectful - I don't WANT to check it against respectful... because I really know it isn't respectful, and I fear that my own need won't be met if I'm in tune with respectful (so I have to take a breath and recognize that my need is valid, too, but I might need to find another way to meet that need).
- Problem-solve. I have this problem. You have that problem. We both have a problem, and they're bumping into each other. How can we solve this together? I'd like to do this, you'd like to do that. Hmm. What do you think? How could we solve this so we both get what we need? How do we get to a solution that works for both of us? I'm sure we can do it. Hmm, what about ... Repeat that about 20 times a day. Sometimes 20 times an hour. It takes a while to sink in, but it sinks in. They start using it with you, with their friends, with their siblings. Their solutions are often better than mine. Problem solving techniques are outlined (along with the listening and asking) in Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children- though it can be hard to extrapolate to younger kids from this book, the method is the same (just harder to picture it).
- Change the schedule. Preschoolers and toddlers have an entirely different sense of time than adults do. Schedule accordingly. Estimate, then triple the estimate. The time crunch is a big issue for conflicts with toddlers and preschoolers, especially transitions like getting out the door in the morning, and getting to bed by a certain time. Padding the time by getting up earlier, prepping the night before, (etc.) can help reduce the problem to start with. Also note that different parents have different time crunch points. Be willing to accept the other person's scheduling for their process when they are in charge - I have to get to the car sooner in the process than epeepunk does, because my time crunch point is at the car, where his is before the car load-up.
So, those are a few to start.
There are a bunch more coming over the next few days, too.