What is the best way to respond to a disobedient child?

A child disobeys when they feel unheard, unvalued, their view not considered important enough to be listened to. A child disobeys when they don’t understand why they are being asked to do a certain thing. They rebel when what they are asked to do ‘feels wrong’ and takes them away from their joy, their heart’s guidance.

Some times it is appropriate for a child to disobey, to learn assertiveness, to set boundaries. Some times disobeying is the healthiest action they can take to honour themselves and their needs. It is not always wrong or destructive to disobey.

mom-toddler-cosleepingIf it is a small child, a toddler, the best way to respond is to calmly explain why you need them to do what you are asking them to do. “Mummy needs you to be quiet now, because she is tired and needs some rest. You know what it is like to be tired and sad, don’t you? How about having a cuddle with Mummy and a nap?” A child will empathise with this information. They will understand why it is beneficial to you for them to be quiet and what’s more you have created a win-win situation. To the child they now have the opportunity to choose connection and receiving love / affection / nurturing, which feels good to them – and as a bonus they will get to feel proud of themselves for helping Mummy – win, win, win!

Try to create such beneficial solutions so the child gets to choose something that meets your needs and theirs. By creating a win-win there is less need for struggle or resistance.

If it is an older child, 6 or 7, then you can explain things in a little more detail. You can ask them how they are feeling and what they need right now. There is a reason for their behaviour. If you can understand the thoughts behind it, you can then discuss alternative ways of seeing situations and choices of how to react. Teaching and role modelling emotional intelligence is important.

“Remember last week when Mummy stubbed her toe on the fridge, she hopped and screamed until it stopped hurting. Mummy was tempted to throw something in anger or to hit the fridge, but she didn’t did she? What did Mummy do? That’s right, Mummy stood still and breathed deeply until the pain stopped. That breathing allowed all the anger to flow out of her and back into Mother Earth. Next time when you get angry let’s try breathing through it and seeing the anger flow out of us back to Mother Earth?

Shall we practice now? When were you last angry? What was it about? Imagine that now, can you see it? How does it feel? What do you want to do? Okay, let’s practice visualising / seeing the anger as energy inside us, see it flowing our our body, down into the Earth. Great! How did you go?”

Doing these types of activities fosters closeness between you and your child, as well as helping them build skills in controlling and releasing their emotions. Remember you are their role model, they learn from what you do. If they see you raging about traffic blocks or income limits or whatever else, then that is how they learn to respond to life’s challenges too. So, be the best role model you can be. And if you slip up and you do something less than ideal explain to them what happened, so you both learn from it and so they are not scared of you and your reactions.

Boots“I am sorry Mummy yelled at you, but this is the third time this week that you have tracked mud inside on your shoes. Mummy doesn’t enjoy cleaning the floors over and over again. I just got upset at the thought of having to do it again, and I felt like you hadn’t listened to me. When you don’t listen Mummy feels hurt like you don’t care about what Mummy says. I know you probably just forgot and you didn’t do it deliberately. And I know you certainly didn’t do it to hurt Mummy’s feelings, but that is how I felt.

Do you remember how upset you got when Tommy kept taking your truck and hiding it? It is the same sort of thing. How did that feel to you? That’s right, you didn’t like it, you felt like Tommy was mean and selfish. Mummy felt like that too, like you didn’t care you were making a mess and that Mummy would clean it up. How about we clean it up together and we put a sign on the door at your height so that you see it before coming inside from playing in the backyard? Should we make the sign together? Yes, okay, how big should it be? What colours do we need? …………”

In this way you are teaching the child problem solving and emotional intelligence skills. You are making it clear it is the behaviour that you dislike. It is not the child itself that you are unhappy with. This distinction is very important. If you imply the child is careless, stupid, lazy, clumsy, inconsiderate, etc, then they will feel bad about them self and naturally will respond with hurt feelings – sulking, tantrum, lashing out. They will feel wounded by your words and feel bad about themselves. This is not helpful, it adds to low self esteem and feeling not good enough. Make it clear it is the behaviour you didn’t like and you can choose to behave differently. Therefore “It is not you, just your choices that I would like to see change. I love you, I honour you, I am grateful you are my son, I just need you to help me out sometimes by listening to what I say and doing what I ask.”

Of course there are times when it won’t work, no matter what you say. If a child is over tired, exhausted, hungry there is no point trying to reason with them then. Let them rest. Let them rebuild their energy reserves, then you can talk about it.

Sometimes you need to postpone your needs being met and look at what the child is going through. “Honey, why are you so upset? You came in from school and threw your bag against the wall and stormed off into your room. Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?” This would be a more helpful response than yelling at the child for leaving his or her bag and stuff lying around. If you take the time to listen to them and their emotions, they are much more likely to listen to yours, when you need to explain something to them. Be compassionate. Be empathetic. Be honest and sincere. And most of all be loving.

If it is a teenager who is being disobedient, you need to pick your battles. Let minor things go and only challenge them on issues that you believe are serious enough to warrant discussion.

Teenage years are very challenging for all concerned. As a teen the child is experiencing volatile changes in their body, raging hormones, they are questioning who they are and their value. “Am I smart enough, pretty enough, am I going to succeed in life or not?” They are going through a deep reflective time where they soul search. They may not like who they are or what they have in life, they may doubt their ability to have a happy life and these are heart breaking questions to grapple with. There is lots of fear, anguish, grief and anxiety. This can bottle up until it explodes out in anger or tears. They are going through a lot so give them space. Let them know that you love them and you are here for them if they want to talk about it. They may not want to. They may feel too embarrassed to do so or be so confused inside that they can’t put how they feel into words. Honour them and this process.

Let them know you love them regularly. Let them know you are proud of them and believe in them. Compliment them on their abilities and when you see them doing something positive. “I’m really proud of how you handled that situation. You were very polite and considerate giving that old lady the chance to sit on your seat in the bus. That was a very nice thing to do.” “Thank you for tidying up your stuff without me asking you to do it. It makes me really happy to see that you will be able to keep a neat, healthy home when you are older” “But, Mum, I just needed to find something, I wasn’t doing it deliberately.” “I know honey, I’m just glad you did it”.

If you can compliment children often, you help them to build a sense of ‘Yes, I am okay. I am a good person. I can do things’. These are all positive core beliefs which will help build self esteem and their ability to lead a healthy, happy life.

Children are no different to us adults. Some times they are wiser as they haven’t learned to filter their thoughts or ignore their emotions. They haven’t learned to suppress their needs to please others. They can be more emotionally honest in this sense – even if it is turbulent and explosive!

We all need to build our stress management and emotional intelligence skills. If you get upset at your child, ask yourself ‘Why am I reacting? What am I assuming?’ You may find that you are feeling disrespected, not cared for or loved. That is your issue from your past, for you to resolve. Your child was not deliberately disrespecting you when they ate candy before dinner. They saw candy, went yum and ate it. They feel good eating candy and wanted to feel good. That’s as complex as it gets. They didn’t stop to think about the impact or consequences of eating it and they certainly didn’t think ‘I want to piss Mum off, I know, I am going to eat all this candy, make myself sick on sugar, and refuse to eat my dinner. That will upset her. Yeah, I’m going to do that!’

toothpaste funKids just do what feels good – they play, sing, dance, laugh, roll in the mud, etc. They are not plotting against you. There is no such thing as a willful child. Look at the situation from their perspective and see what they see. Squeezing the toothpaste all over the floor is fun – it makes noises, it squelches, it comes out in patterns, it ….. If you don’t want them to do it, remove it from their reach. Remove the temptation.

And take care of yourself so that you are not exhausted and reactive.  Take care of yourself so you do have the energy to listen to and play with them. Take care of yourself so you can be a healthy role model for them and so you can enjoy life. It is meant to be fun after all. Blessed BE. Amen.

Channeled by Jodi-Anne (05 Aug 2015).

See more answers to pertinent life questions on the Life Insights page of this website.
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