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How To Get Your Kids To Do What You Ask

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Dear Susan,

I am just plain worn out over getting my six-year old to do the simplest things like brushing her teeth or putting on her shoes. Why can't she just say, “Okay, Mom” and get with the program? Why does she have to put up a fight about every single thing I ask her to do?

Signed,
Tired Of Tantrums

Dear Tired Of Tantrums,

I get it. And so do the millions of parents who can relate to your question. While it's true that in some families, kids go along with the plan without fuss and fanfare, most of us know all too well the tension that comes from having to pull, push or drag a child through the necessary tasks of daily life.

Most children feel like the majority of our conversations with them are focused on getting them to do something they don't want to do. They see us coming, list in hand (literally or figuratively) and brace themselves to resist as long as possible. Typically, whatever it is we want them to do is much less enjoyable than what they're already doing.

Think about it. Your daughter is tucked into a warm bed, cozy and happy, knowing she's home with Mommy, and life is good. Your first interaction of the day is designed to remove her from that yummy bed and get her clothes on so she can leave home and go to a place where someone else tells her what to do for six hours. I'm not suggesting she shouldn't go to school, or that she won't enjoy it once she gets there, but for most children, there's a strong preference to be at home, which means the battles begin from the moment they awaken.

Here's a challenge: Tomorrow, tuck a piece of paper into your pocket (yes, you can use your Smartphone if you'd rather) and record every request you make of your daughter from morning till night. You may be surprised by how many times your communication is focused on getting her to do something so you can check it off your list. I'm not saying things don't need to get done. But you may want to notice how many of your interactions are about sharing a joke, a cuddle or a smile. If the "task" side of your list is vastly longer than the "sweet moments of connection" side, you may better understand what's going on.

Kids are wired to resist coercion. They simply do not like being bossed around. The way that we can override that instinct is to fortify the connection we have with them. In other words, outside of attachment, children are actually supposed to be resistant. It's what keeps them safe from the inappropriate influence of strangers.

While there are many ways that I teach parents to pose requests -- I'll mention a few in a moment -- the most important element in getting kids to cooperate is to strengthen your connection with them. Take a look at those lists and see if you can start balancing the times that you approach your daughter with a demand with more times, however brief, when your presence simply signals a moment of loving connection.

Here are a few more ideas:

Don't be needy: The worst way to deliver a request is to begin it with, "I need you to..." It weakens you, and places too much power with your daughter to either fulfill your need, or deny it.

"Eyes on me": Before you deliver an instruction to your daughter, say, "Eyes on me" so you know she's listening. Have her repeat what you asked. And keep your requests minimal and brief.

Use a big, fat period: Don't end a request with, "Okay?" as in, "It's time to brush your teeth, okay?" Speak decisively and with authority so she gets the message that you're not signing up for a round of negotiations.

Catch her being helpful: Acknowledge those times when she does do what you ask, even if they're few and far between. The more she feels appreciated for when she does cooperate, the more she'll be inclined to do it again.

These ideas should make a difference. Try them out, and let me know if things improve!

Yours in parenting support,
Susan

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.