This is such a common complaint that I hear from parents. Of course, what parents mean when they say, “My child doesn’t listen” is really “My child is not obeying me or doing what I asked.”
Some mothers will say, “Well, Carrie, I asked Jimmy to put his coat on four times and he just runs away” or “Samson won’t let me brush his teeth.” Some small children can tell you exactly WHY they shouldn’t do something, like hitting or biting someone, but then they turn right around and do it anyway!
Let’s return back to some basics with small children:
1. Return yourself to a peaceful state of mind, and realize that this issue is going to have to be dealt with in a repetitive manner in about the same tone you would use to say, “Could you please pass me the pepper?” Try to erase the notion that you and your child are on opposite sides here, and foster the notion that this is a situation that you are going to help and guide and support and love your child through. Try this back post on anger: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/05/22/the-battlefield-of-the-mind-anger-and-parenting/
Try and connect with your child and cultivate that warmth, that love, that joy and that delight in that child during times when things like this are not happening. Try to go in at night and see your child for as small and innocent as they really are, and meditate or pray over them. It really does help! Connection is THE most important and primary ingredient of guiding a child – connection in the moment BEFORE you ask the child something, connection in HOW you ask it, connection at other times throughout the day. CONNECTION is the key. Try “Connection Parenting” by Pam Leo for help and also Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold On To Your Kids!” for further information.
2. Think through the situation and what is underneath it. Don’t ask them, but just think! For example, for not wanting to put a coat on, is it not wanting to leave, is it that there is no rhythm built in to when we leave the house and the child is in the middle of playing, is it that the child is being silly and needs to get some energy out? Mind you, none of these are excuses for behavior. It is just sort of probing the waters and seeing what other things are going on. It may help you adjust some things so things flow more smoothly.
3. Can you use less commands? Can you start the activity? For example, if you just go to the bathroom and start brushing your teeth and when your child follows you into the bathroom can you just hand them a toothbrush? Hum a song. If they run away, can you just wait a moment and then calmly try again? Not by calling them, but maybe by finding them under the bed and calmly and gently pulling them out, carrying them to the bathroom with a funny accented voice that The Tooth Investigator must check your teeth,etc. Can you put on your coat and then help your child into theirs with a song? Not by screaming out, time to get your coat on Jimmy! from the bottom of the stairs. Go up and get Jimmy! And be flexible – can Jimmy put his coat on in the car? When you get there?
Check what tools for gentle discipline you have in your tool belt: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/29/top-10-must-have-tools-for-gentle-discipline/
Can you shift them into fantasy or creative movement?
And you might be thinking, that’s great Carrie for situations where I can be flexible, but my little one hitting or biting is not a flexible situation! You are right! Which leads us to…..
4. Understanding that even if a child understands why not to do something, they don’t have the impulse control of an adult. Restitution is most important in the cases of biting, hitting, breaking a sibling’s toy. “Janie was sad when you bit her.” (to a three year old and up aged child). “Let’s draw her a beautiful picture together.”
Also, divorce the offending body part from the child –divorcing the mouth, the hands, the feet - from the child who will take the “You bad child, you hurt your sister!” into incredible self-awareness and shame because they are still small themselves. Try, “Uh-oh, your hands forgot what they were doing! Come and use those hands for peeling these potatoes for dinner!” “Your feet forgot what they were doing! Come and kick this ball!” But never leave the restitution part out, the fact you are moving the energy of the mouth, the hands, the feet into practical work in no way makes up for the harm they caused by biting or hitting someone else. Restitution is key.
Also, I do think in cases of siblings hitting or biting siblings, the child needs your connection and your love outside of the times of hitting or biting or whatnot. Do they get time alone with you? This is important as children grow. Are all your children melding into one family unit of “The Children” or are there times alone with each of them, and times for each of them to be alone with Daddy as well?
Just a few thoughts today on these challenging discipline situations.