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Friday, January 12, 2018

Dealing with Kids who Resist

I spend a lot of time helping parents who are trying to shift from conventional models of parenting into more conscious models of parenting.  When they post questions about their challenges, they often fall into common categories and themes.  Below is a note I wrote to one such parent.  Her question was about a situation with her son where they were trying to get out the door to an outing and he was moving slow and forgot the one item he was supposed to bring with them.  When she pushed him to get the item, he refused; Mom and son had gotten into a stand off so his sister went and got the item to solve the issue.  Here is what I wrote in response in case it percolates some ideas that may be helpful for others.

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Dealing with kids who resist us.

I spend a lot of time just figuring out what's important to me vs. what's important to my kids. If the outing was important to someone else in the family, and he had to come along - then I'd have worked doubly hard to help make that whole experience low impact and easy for him. 


For all my kids... (especially the two 11 yr old introverts)

1) I give 24 hours notice about every activity we have planned and they have agreed to. 
2) I give 1 hour notice and 30 min notice and at 15 mins I remind about putting shoes on.
3) I ensure that everyone is fed and prepared for the outing. If we need to have things, I usually ask how they want to have me help them remember, so I might identify the item, put it "in our way" and ensure that we have what we need to leave.
4) I bring snacks, activities or otherwise especially if a kid was dragged along outside his interest (and this is rare in this house)
5) I do NOT set my kids up to fail -- nor wait for their failure or get mad at their missteps. Why would a kid want to go out with me if they feel that they are set up for failure from the beginning.

** I know that working to a schedule is a trigger point for me -- I get stressed about the clock and making it somewhere on time. I know this and I recognize that I must be ahead of schedule to alleviate the pressure on the back end to set myself up for success. Everyone has their tricks to be successful -- I know mine and I work those to my benefit to avoid adding more stress to the situation.

I assume that most parents think that if a kid cannot get "prepared" to go out to an activity at age "x" then they will NEVER have that ability. 
that is false. As a result, said parent will knowingly or unknowingly test that kid to "prove" their assumption. Well, unfortunately, if we place ourselves into our kids' shoes, we'd quickly realize that we'd not want to go on that outing or do that thing with our parent's judgmental glare either. 

I think it all comes back to expectations. You have them and it's likely that your son knows you have them and he tends to SLOW down because he knows better than you where this whole scenario will end up and he's loathe to go there, but knows, oh so well, that it will become a shit show. 

You are the adult in the room, though, you can change your whole attitude about this and come to these activities with a much more positive attitude and choose, consciously, NOT TO OWN your son's actions nor attitude and to work to make sure that you are spending time figuring out how to make him successful. In that one small shift, you could have changed the entire episode into a calm and peaceful one.

I'd start by talking to your son well in advance of the trip to say "hey, We have this thing this week where we are gonna have to go out. I want us to get out the the door as seamlessly as possible. What can I do to help make that whole process easier for you?" My guess is that (if your son believes in your sincerity) your son will have some ideas about what will grant him the best opportunity for success. This all may take a few tries and a few times where he can learn to trust that you won't end up with the expectations/failure shit show scenario again -- but as he builds up trust, it all should get better. And in this case, it could be that if he is responsible to bring something he may ask you to get it and put it in the car for him. And you should JUMP at that chance to do so. Why set yourself up for disappointment and frustration when in fact you could have avoided all of it by just HELPing him be successful? Every kid should have someone in their corner helping them be successful and over time, they will learn the process for being successful on their own.

In the end, our kids will be and act in whatever way we "assume" they will be and act. You likely have set up models of behavior with him that he rejects and the only way to get change is to allow him to have numerous successes/wins on his own terms not on yours. I'd much rather have my kids feel good about their outings and feel confident in knowing what works for them (not for me) and watch how over time they take on more and more responsibility because they've incrementally gained experience and success and confidence in their own choices. That is what childhood is for, kids don't come out perfect and capable of all the things we think are important for them to learn/know -- they come out with rudimentary skills and do many years of trial and error (hopefully in a low stakes situation) to figure out what works for them.

And as a parent of three kids 11,11,and 9.5 yrs - each has come to differing levels of responsibility and awareness of self and confidence in choices at different times and with different things. But since my kids get to choose to "grow" in a manner that is natural for them, they don't have angst or hang ups and therefore do not resist me hardly at all. But that's because I don't let my agenda, expectations and wants/needs to cloud my interactions with them (at least not very much these days). Kids won't resist if they don't have anything to push back on. And when we allow our kids to unfurl and "become," naturally, in a supported and loving family, they reveal much more about their personalities and selves to us and we get to learn to respect their process equally as we do our own. And sometimes we learn that those "prickly parts" that we have pushed back on are actually core competencies that make them wonderfully good at other things... so we should celebrate them, not deny them.

And to that last point, I have realized that none of my kids value the same things as me. They are their own people and what I find fascinating is that even amidst all that 'individuality' they all have a fierce need to be a valuable member of our family and an innate need to contribute to the whole. We have achieved this because I do not believe that I am somehow more important because I am the parent. My goals, agenda and wishes do not carry higher weight. We all compromise and we all get to win sometimes here and if my kids can't be on the winning end, they fully understand why and what the trade offs were. and that happens so infrequently that they rarely bristle at those times when we have to say no. 

At its core is the use of power and authority, though. Maybe this is just the core of what's going on here. Somehow in your family, you have expectations you want him to reach/meet and he feels overloaded by those expectations. You often mention how you are proud of how you "steeled" your response/reaction. How about trying not to have that reaction at all? How about just let him be who he is for a while, let him be slow and noisy at the table and not the perfect "approved" person you want. Then take a look at who he actually is and revel in his uniqueness and see his talents and be so thankful that he was sent to you so you could heal all your own stuff. That is all kids are meant to do, when you really peel that onion. The ones that are our hardest are the ones who parents need to listen to the most.

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