I often hear parents say that their kids won’t stop doing something until they get really stern or yell. They ask their kids to stop kicking the wall by using a kind voice and offering reasons. But their children persist until the parent either gets stern or yells, “stop kicking the wall!” And it’s easy to understand in these situations why parents believe they “have” to be stern or yell to get their kids to stop – they ask, they get frustrated, and then they get “serious.” Experience is an interesting teacher! But what if there’s something missing in that learning lesson?
What if you could completely skip the “frustration” that triggers your overly stern or raised voice, and instead experience more peace within yourself when it comes to parenting – and be heard at the same time?
Here are some ideas you may find helpful….
- GET CLEAR
What if our children don’t know we’re serious when they ask them to stop? Sometimes we ask our kids to stop out of habit or because we’re annoyed. In this case, we don’t actually have a valid reason, and bringing it to our attention can help us let it go. Or we may not be clear ourselves, and our ambiguity is easily detected by our children. It’s important we ask ourselves WHY we want them to stop so that our children can pick up on our clarity. Is it dangerous (really)? Are we annoyed or distracted? Some other reason? Our habitual response feeds their habitual response, so clarity can help when lack of clarity is the driving reason our children don’t stop. “Why do I want them to stop kicking the wall – is it going to damage the wall; is it distracting me; can I let it go?”
What if our kids are thinking about something and they’re distracted when we start talking to them? How many times has your child said, “MOM! Are you listening?” because your thoughts were elsewhere when your child started talking? When you want to request something of your kids, move close and get their attention before you begin to speak. Connecting with them by moving close will help them know you’re talking to them and it will help them feel heard and valued. They don’t need to look at you, they just need to know you’re talking to them.
Sometimes kids are enjoying the thing they are that we’re asking them to stop. It’s important to empathize with them so they can remain emotionally regulated and feel valued. Empathy can be as simple as noticing what you see, “you’re kicking the wall” or you can add a guess about what they like, “you’re kicking the wall and it makes a neat sound.” They’ll let you know if it’s the sound or the feel that they’re enjoying, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to feel connected by sharing about themselves.
- SHARE YOUR CONCERN
Once we get clear, connect and empathize, we need to get real with our kids by tell them why we want them to stop. “I’m concerned that wall will get damaged.” or “I’m on the phone and I can’t hear when you’re kicking.”
Children need to know what they can do instead of what they’re doing. For very young children you can offer choices, “you can kick this pillow or you can kick the brick wall outside.” For other children, you can ask them find better alternatives, “what else can you kick safely that might make a neat sound?” or “where else could you kick until I’m off the phone?” You may need to take a few minutes to problem solve with them so that you can understand their point of view, express your own point of view, and then work together to find a solution that meets both of your needs. If this is a common challenge you two face, then you’ll want to problem solve proactively instead of waiting until you two are facing the challenge once more – proactively means doing it at home while having dinner or cuddling on the couch or some other time when you’re not immersed in the challenge.
In summary, here are 5 steps you can take to be heard without yelling:
STEP 1: take 30 seconds to get clear on your reasons
STEP 2: connect with your child so you can both be heard
STEP 3: offer empathy
STEP 4: state your reasons
STEP 5: empower
Final notes on empathy based on feedback I received from our parenting beyond punishment community:
Sometimes empathy is simply noticing…
“I see you’re kicking the wall” and “I hear you screaming”
Other times it’s, “you want to keep kicking” or “you don’t want to leave yet”
Sometimes you might guess at why they’re doing it…
“the window screen feels interesting” and “stepping on my feet feels good on your feet”
It may help to know that a lot things kids do have to do with sensory exploration – how something feels, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. Other times kids are feeling angry, sad, scared, excited (you can just name those, and if you get it wrong they’ll let you know). You don’t have to know why they’re doing it, you can simply say what you see – kids want to know we see them and value them, “you’re climbing the shelf” and “your stomping your feet” and “you’re crying” are all adequate ways to offer empathy.