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Is it a child's behaviour that's "the problem" or is it how we as adults see it?

When an adult (usually a parent or teacher) notices that a child is not following through with an instruction - say the child is not stopping a task or not starting a task as directed - then that adult may start thinking thoughts like:

  • "This kid won't do it" / "This kid is lazy"

  • "This kid only does what they want to do"

  • "This kid is attention-seeking"

  • "This kid is trying to manipulate me" / "The kid is testing me"

  • "This kid never listens"

  • "This kid should know better" etc etc etc

Do you notice anything about those thoughts?

They judge, label, blame, and see the child as purposely being non-compliant. Once thoughts like this begin to build up in that adult's mind, then feelings begin to erupt and that adult is likely to become frustrated, angry or even furious with that child.

When this happens, things escalate quickly! I call it "stinking-sinking-thinking" because:

  • the adult may be offended by the child's response (behaviour) to the instruction and then see the child as unmotivated, attention-seeking, limit-testing or manipulative (this is the stinking part)

  • the adult finds themselves getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts and intense feelings (this is the sinking part)

  • the adult decides to win the battle, solve "the problem" and make the child comply (i.e. get rid of the non-compliant behaviour with rewards or punishment) (this is the more thinking part).

Is there another way to solve the situation?

Absolutely! Let's help the adult change (a) how they see the situation and (b) how they see "the problem" to be solved. To do this, the adult needs to get curious not furious about the child and the situation.

If you find yourself repeating instructions over and over again, perhaps it's time to say it once and then pause for a moment if the child is not responding. Following through with any instruction is more than just hearing the words, it involves skills!

When this happens, an adult can set the pace. I call it "linking-syncing-thinking" because:

  • the adult simply notices (no judgement, no labelling, no blame) that the child is having difficulty with following through with their instruction (this is the linking part)

  • the adult decides to step back, get 'in-sync' with the child and the situation, and see the bigger picture (this is the syncing part)

  • the adult then wonders about: was my instruction clear? does the kid understand and how do I know this? is the instruction realistic and does the kid have the skills to do it? how can this kid help me understand what's getting in their way to begin the task? what can I do right now to soothe the situation and move forward? (this is the thinking part)

What's the take home message?

Non-compliance and challenging behaviour are just the signal that a child uses to communicate that they are stuck or that they are having difficulty meeting an expectation. When behaviour is seen through this lense, it leads to (a) greater understanding and connection with your child, and (b) solutions that your child can be involved in generating (you collaborate with your child) rather than solutions that you have decided on as the adult (which may involve using power over your child).

Keep this mind: "See a child differently...see a different child" - Dr. Stuart Shanker

For assistance with setting realistic expectations for your children and ways to effectively solve behavioral challenges, contact Connectfully. We aim to connect you fully to strategies that work.

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