“You can’t make me”: Secrets to getting your child to listen to you

June 30th, 2011

If you are a parent (or a stepparent) you have likely heard these words, “You can’t make me” and your heart sinks because these words cut to the core, and leave you gasping for a sane response. So before you quickly jump to a response and potentially say something you may regret later, take a minute to compose yourself. These 5 secrets will help you respond calmly when you hear the words, “You can’t make me.”

1.  Breathe- Take a minute and breathe before you respond. Yes, you’ve heard this one before, but do you know why you should breathe before you respond?  Children pick-up on your emotional state and mirror it via the phenomena of mirror neurons, meaning if they are agitated then you are likely to mirror their emotional response, which only amplifies their negative behavioral response and escalates a power struggle. Research suggests taking a deep breath allows you to increase the flow of oxygen to your brain, whereby you’ll approach the situation from a calm and rational place, rather than reactive response. Take a breath, before you respond and you’ll be much more calm and rational.

2.  Diffuse the argument- These three words will immediately diffuse any disagreement, “You are right.” Now here’s what most parents and stepparents struggle with, they want to be right. Let’s admit it, we all desire to be “right”, and often this desire to be “right” is what provokes and sustains arguments. When you let your child know they are right this removes the power struggle from the conversation and more than likely your child will have a slightly shocked and perhaps even smug look on their face when you concede that you cannot make them do anything.

3.  Communicate-Have a communication game plan in place with your spouse so you know exactly how you will handle problems when they arise, so you’re not stuck making up reactive rules in response to your child’s or stepchild’s behaviors. Take some time with your spouse and talk about how you will respond when a child in the household misbehaves. Come up with a clear consistent plan, such as telling the child know that there will be a consequence for their behaviors if they do not listen. You may even want to have a list of agreed upon consequences that you develop with your spouse prior to any argument. This way you can calmly share what the consequence will be if the child does not do what is requested.

4.  Stop splitting- Create a clear and consistent plan on following through with consequences. When you let your child or stepchild calmly know that they are right, and you can’t make them doing anything, however if they do not do what is requested there will be a consequence your child may go running to your spouse to get their way. Some of the tactics children will use are whining, pouting, begging, demanding, or guilting to get their way. You need to send a clear message to your child that you and your spouse are on the same parenting page and you both are in agreement of how the situation will be handled. If your child comes to you complaining about your spouse validate that they may be upset, and then let them know you will speak with your spouse before you make a decision together.

5.  Follow-through- Consequences that are relevant and meaningful to your child will help them make corrections to their behaviors, and this only works if you are consistent and follow through. As a child therapist I hear children tell me all the different ways their parents and stepparents punish them, and then do not follow through. Children come to see your consequences as meaningless and know they can eventually get their way. Make sure that consequences are realistic for you, so you and your spouse are able to follow through.

It’s never easy hearing the words, “You can’t make me”. Equip yourself with patience, a sense of humor, lots of love and compassion and these 5 insider therapy strategies and you’ll find it easier to respond to the statement, “You can’t make me.”

Are you in need of more support to help your family communicate? We can help! Click here to schedule your Complimentary Support Consultation and learn how to best help your child.

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