Tag Archives: understanding

Willful Defiance: A Lesson for Parents and Teachers
Defiant Child

We live in a school culture within a parenting culture that expects its children to fit in and embrace that culture.

For many children acculturation happens seamlessly. But for at least 1 in 5 children*, it requires giving up oneself, shifting off base, and surrendering to a non-nurturing authority. In other words, understanding that you are wrong and the other is right. Parents are expected to take on the role of enforcer using consequences, threats, punishment, withdrawal of what is most cherished—coercive tactics to manipulate children into being who they are expected to be. 

These are the children we see as defiant and oppositional. The square pegs society tries to fit into its round holes. And if they don’t adjust enough, they become the troublemakers, the problems, the ones we fear our children will grow up to be. These are the children who are tough to raise and who cause problems in classrooms. 

At home, they fight the rules and argue every direction given. Parents complain they never listen, won’t do as they’re told and refuse to comply. At school they are considered disruptive, attention-seekers. The problem worsens with reprimands, isolation, and punishment. Counselors are brought in but counseling that typically focuses on training the child to self-control, keep emotions in the “green zone”—messages that unintentionally say You’re not right the way you are. This “help” further identifies the child as the troublemaker, the one who can’t get along, the one who isn’t like the others who don’t need a counselor’s help. 

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Communication 101: How to get your child to listen
Apologize

Communication is the core of the parent/child relationship. It makes or breaks connection. It’s not so much what we say but how we say it that conveys meaning to our children. We may want to get a point across, but tone of voice and body language determine whether the child hears what is intended or a different message entirely.

“What is it you want?” can be said with genuine curiosity and encouragement or with criticism and judgment. One reading tells the child, What you want is important to me. A different reading says, You are annoying. Leave me alone.

Good communication requires knowing when to ask questions and when to make statements. There are times for each. Usually we get it wrong.

Your child is upset. You know this because of her emotions or behavior. You want to know why, so you ask:

  • What’s wrong?
  • Why are you so upset?

Or you can’t avoid the temptation to teach if you know what happened:

  • When are you going to learn to just walk away?
  • Why do you keep provoking him?

When we want children to tell us what’s going on, we ask questions—the last thing kids want to hear, especially because they often don’t know. Questions at this stage can block communication, especially when children are not sure how their answers will be received.

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Emotional Roller Coasters: The Human Condition

Did you ever have something really good happen that you had mixed emotions about? Ever dip into a panic right before you got married or had a baby?
Have you ever been offered a job you sought only to wish you hadn’t gotten it?
Have you ever had times when you are very emotional but couldn’t describe what you were feeling or why?
Did you ever think you were just plain crazy?

Of course you did.

Now imagine being two. Or four, or six, or twelve. In an immature stage of development, confused, overwhelming emotions spin around inside a child’s head like a tornado, the child doesn’t know what is happening, and the result is unwanted, inappropriate, out-of-control behavior.

If you were not experienced enough to know that this is only temporary, you’d probably think, “Is this how I’m going to feel forever?” Face it. At age forty or fifty you think that.

So when a young child is up and down emotionally, he understands his feelings a lot less than you do and has no way of explaining himself. So, “What’s wrong? How do you feel about that? Why are you so upset/angry/sad?” are the worst possible things you can say to an upset child.

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