To be honest, I know that I have it pretty easy. Both of our kids are willing and eager to learn, and the “terrible twos” haven’t been that terrible for either of them. They’re both very verbal kids (I know where that’s coming from!), which also makes things easier, because they works hard to express themselves in words, so we’re able to talk a lot of things through and avoid potential explosions.
But, there are still days when it seems like one (or both!) of our kids is contradicting us ALL DAY LONG. And today was one of those days. BOTH of our little ones have been absolutely determined to make sure we thoroughly understand that they have strong minds and wills of their own.
Happy as I am that both of my boys are further discovering their self-identity, learning how to express themselves, and trying to learn how to function within their environment, balancing their desires with the limits placed on them, these days stretch my parental patience to the limit (or beyond the limit?), and leave me feeling like a snarling lioness.
I’m always looking for more ways to help both myself and my kids through these days, so I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found helpful in case some of you are looking for similar strategies! Here are some things you can do to help when your child contradicts you.
1. Implement consistent and timely consequences. I’ve noticed recently that sometimes I don’t give consequences when I should either because I’m too lazy or because I don’t want to handle a possible negative reaction to the consequence. So sometimes I give warnings instead – too many warnings that, instead of having effective results, just allow the kids to push the limits further and further until both they and I am even more frustrated. On the other hand, when I actually carry through a simple and logical consequence, the kids learn very quickly.
2. TEACH. This is something I forget to do all too often, but try to do regularly. Sometimes I forget how much our kids still have to learn. They don’t KNOW yet how to handle their anger, or how to share nicely, or accept things they don’t like. Before jumping to consequences, it’s very important to make sure our kids not only know the expectations we place for them, but are also EMPOWERED to meet them. Sometimes they don’t need a consequence; they need guidance; they need to be shown different acceptable ways of reacting. Often enough, once they know appropriate ways of reacting, they’re perfectly willing to try using them. Consequences will still sometimes be necessary, but the more we teach our kids what TO DO, instead of just telling them what NOT to do, the better! It can truly make for a happier family – parents and kids alike – and definitely prepares the kids better for outside situations too!
3. Validate their emotions. It’s very important for our kids to learn how to recognize and accept their emotions. That doesn’t mean they can always ACT on their emotions. Showing your child that you understand their emotion even though you aren’t going to let them act on it can help them feel secure and more willing to work WITH you instead of fighting against you. Instead of just saying “Don’t hit” or “Hitting isn’t allowed”, for example, you might say instead, “I understand that you feel angry right now at “x” because they (fill in the blank), but even though you feel angry, it’s still not OK to hit.” And then discuss a few things they CAN do when they’re angry. While remaining firm regarding behavioral expectations, this type of response helps your child feel more secure and self-confident, instead of feeling condemned or rejected because of their emotions. You can also use this method to remind your child of routines or patterns they can count on (“I know you want to watch more TV right now, but you’ve already watched one hour of TV today. You may watch more tomorrow). Again, this helps your child accept the immediate “no”, but connects it with a positive thought that makes it easier for them.
4. If there IS any leeway, give the child two valid choices, so even though they might not be able to choose what they wanted, they know that their input counts. Sometimes there’s not choice they can make – the decision is already made for one reason or another. But in other cases, we can sometimes make the point we want to make, while still involving our child in the decision. You might say, for example, “You may not use the iPad right now. You’ve already used it a lot today. BUT, you can choose what else you want to do. Would you prefer to play with play dough or legos?” This type of scenario conveys “no” to the child, but helps them accept an answer they don’t want by focusing them on other options and giving them input in what they do.
5. When there is no room for leeway, I still find it helpful to remind my kids that they can make choices at other times. For example: “I’m sorry. We can’t play with the toys right now because we have to go to the grocery store” (no room for their input here), “But when we get back, you can each choose what we do for half an hour, and we’ll do it all together”. Again, this type of response requires the child to accept that they don’t always get their way, but also reminds them that how they feel is important to you, and gives them something to look forward to, thereby giving them some help in coping with the disappointment of not getting their way.
6. Avoid saying “no” over and over again. Negative terminology naturally sets the stage for conflict. Find a positive way to say the same thing. (Sometimes instead of saying “don’t touch” over and over again, for example, I say something like “can you find something else to look at with your hands” or “that’s not what hands are for” and the kids usually react more positively to those reminders than to “don’t touch” command.)
7. Be creative! It might not always be possible, but the more you can involve challenges and games in what you want your kids to do, the better. This makes them focus more on the task and feel less like they are being “forced” to do something. Races, time goals, specific directions (“Can you pick up all the red blocks first?”, for example, instead of “Clean up now.”), etc.