Help Your Kids Listen and Behave BetterNov 03, 2021
What if I told you that there was one simple thing that you could do to help your child listen and behave better? Because there actually is one thing that you can do, and the answer is likely to surprise you. The one thing that you can do is to acknowledge how your child is feeling when they misbehave or are expressing negative feelings.
I know that doesn’t sound right. When our kids express negative feelings through their words or behavior we think that we need to address the behavior in the moment, and we tend not to think about their feelings.
I’d like to introduce the idea that your child has to feel right, to behave right.
Do you put much thought into how your child feels? I know that I didn’t think much about my kids feelings beyond a general desire for them to be happy. Unless my kids were experiencing strong negative feelings, I was mostly just trying to get through the days — keeping them relatively even keeled.
I’m guessing that you have a lot going on just like I did — keeping everyone fed and healthy, keeping up with house stuff, work stuff, and running from one activity to the next. When would you find the time to think about how your child is feeling? A parent’s life is a busy one, so introspection typically falls low on the priority list.
Although you likely aren’t aware of it, most parents respond to their children’s feelings more often than they realize. When our kids express negative feelings through their behavior or words, we instinctively respond in a way we are not even aware of because our brains are designed to resist negative feelings. Our instinct in the moment is to tell them why they shouldn’t feel that way, and what they should be feeling instead. We unknowingly deny them, justify and tell them why they shouldn’t feel that way, or give them advice on how to fix it so they feel better as soon as possible.
Your son tells you that he hates his new baby sister.
You respond “You don’t hate her, you’re going to love her — and we don’t hate anyone.”
Your daughter tells you how her teacher is awful and she’s angry about a grade on a report.
You respond “How can you say that? You were just telling me how great she was last week!”
Or one as simple as your son telling you that he’s hungry.
You respond “You can’t be hungry! You just finished eating less than half an hour ago. You must be thirsty so go get some water.”
And with older kids, we might try to explain and justify why they deserved what happened.
Your daughter is ranting. She didn’t get to start in this week’s game because she missed practice.
You respond “What did you expect to happen? It was your choice to skip practice so you could hang out with your friends and you paid the consequences.”
Can you see from these examples how we can just brush over our kids' negative feelings? I know that I would often respond like this and not even think about it.
So why is it important to acknowledge how our children feel?
Because our feelings drive ALL our actions. Think about how you feel when your feelings are denied, criticized, or you are told what to do? Do you have any desire to do anything for the person that wouldn’t acknowledge your feelings? Probably not!
Our kids have to feel right to behave right. When kids feel listened-to, they tend to listen better and behave better. So it starts with just acknowledging how they feel — Do this by observing them and stating it.
So when your son says “I hate my new baby sister”, you might respond “It must be frustrating that I can’t play with you as much now that there is a new baby to take care of.”
When your daughter says her teacher is awful, you could respond “You seem really angry. Something must have happened.”
And when your teen daughter is ranting, simply respond “That’s so frustrating”.
The point isn’t to tell them why they shouldn’t feel that way, fix for their feelings, or accept their behavior. It’s simply to acknowledge how they feel. Acknowledging how they feel will keep them open and more receptive to any guidance that you have.
They are significantly more likely to listen to you if they feel listened-to first.
Please note, this does not mean accepting their behavior too. You can accept how your child is feeling, without accepting how they are behaving. All feelings are okay, even if the behavior is not. When you accept the feeling first, it will likely be much easier to address the behavior.
If you found this article helpful, sign up for my newsletter here to get more strategies and notifications of my upcoming workshops. And if you really struggle and find that your conversations with your kids tend to escalate quickly, I can help! I help parents learn to keep their cool and communicate so their kids will listen. Schedule a free discovery call here to see how Parent Coaching can help change things for your family!
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