You are at the end of your rope with your child not listening to you, not helping around the house. You have asked him a million times to throw their trash in the trash can, to take the trash outside, to put their clothes away. And they just respond with an “ok!” or even worse a “no!”
You can start to feel your blood boil, your chest tighten, and you end up yelling “clean up your room!” Then it all goes down from there. You are yelling at each other, someone starts crying or everyone starts crying. You lecture them, they talk back, and everyone is feeling drained from the situation that could have been avoided if they would just listen and do what we ask right!?
I totally get it. EVERY parent has been in this situation, and remember our own parents have been there too, but when we were teens we didn’t understand why they would get so upset, and now as parents, we don’t understand why our kids just won’t listen. How things change and we tend to forget what it was like as a child, and how we would feel in those moments.
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Kids will do well if they can
Before we start I want to give this credit to Dr. Ross Greene. This post is based off of his book The Explosive Child, and a teaching I have watched of his. I felt compelled to write about it for my readers, because this is a HUGE game changer that I know will be really beneficial for you.
He mentioned that kids will do well if they can. When he talked about this and explained it, my mind was blown and it made so much sense. It’s simple and this explains so much about our kids.
We will talk about what this means and how we can get our kids to finally do what we need them to do, without power struggles!
He goes into talking about how parents use the motivational rewards and punishment strategy. We use these to get them to behave how we want them and stop a behavior we don’t approve of. Which is so true, that is exactly what these are used for, whether we are realizing it or not.
What we are not aware of is there is always something underlining their behavior. We tend to be obsessed with kids’ behavior but not focused on what is causing the behavior.
This is why rewards and punishments will never work. They are correcting the behavior how we want it to look like, but we are not addressing the cause and reason FOR the behavior. We are just on this merry-go-round. They act out, we punish them, they don’t listen and they act out again.
Rewards don’t work because we only show them approval when they behave how we want them to behave, usually by fear of not being accepted, loved and from being punished. They are doing something right because they are in fear, not because they understand the reason why they need to behave a certain way.
Unmet Expectations and Unsolved Problems
Let’s talk a little more about “kids will do well if they can”. So when kids aren’t doing something that we told them to, it’s not because they are lacking motivation but lacking the skills.
I know you’re thinking my child knows how to take the trash out, it’s not the lack of skill. Hear me out.
They are trying to tell us “I’m stuck. There are expectations that I’m having difficulty meeting.
They could be lagging skills.
- Difficulty with task transition
- Modulating response to ones frustration
- Communicating needs, wants, thoughts in words
- Difficulty understanding how one’s behavior is affecting other people
These results in unsolved problems. So when they refuse or won’t listen to us it is because there is an unsolved problem. You can’t change the behavior until we fix the problem.
The unsolved problems are specific expectations the child is having difficulty meeting. And we need to figure out what those problems are and why they are having these difficulties. They can’t meet our expectations of brushing teeth, waking up, taking out the trash, getting dressed, math homework, or even eating dinner.
Collaboratively and Proactively Problem Solving
This approach Dr. Greene talks about how we can work together and proactively to get things done, get our kids to do what is needed without dealing with power struggles, not listening, he calls this process the Plan B.
So your child may have chores or expectations, maybe pick up their toys, take the trash out, feed the dog, clean the table after dinner, do homework, and sweep the floor.
Set priorities for these tasks. Look at them and see which ones are the most important to you at this moment, instead of doing all of these at once. I am not saying don’t have them do them ever. But we need to see where the unsolved problem is, without trying to see why they won’t do anything, focus on the most important thing right now, fix the problem they are having to meet that expectation. One thing at a time for now.
Then once you get one problem solved them move on to the next task/problem they are having. Prioritizing- due to unmet expectations, use problem solving to see why they can’t meet that expectation.
Some parents may think that they will start walking all over the parent saying and take advantage of this and make excuses. But, this isn’t the case. They will feel understood, that their feelings matter and they will see that you care.
Tell your child what it is that you’re doing. Tell them that you see that they are getting stuck, something is keeping them from meeting an expectation and we are trying to see how we can solve this problem. Let them tell you what is going on, why they aren’t meeting an expectation. Let them be involved in the prioritizing process. The more they are involved the more they feel included, heard and part of the decision making in the house.
Since there may be multiple unsolved problems this may take some time.
When you are talking to your child about solving this problem there is certain wording to avoid to make this process helpful. The tone is big too, approach them peacefully and not like they are going to be lectured or that they are in trouble.
Wording in solving problems:
- Don’t mention behavior that you are trying to “correct” or noticed, no shaming
- No theory. Parents often have a theory on what their child’s problem is and often we are wrong.
- Split the problem up and not clump all the problems together
- Who is he having an unsolved problem with
- What expectation is he having difficulty meeting
- When is he having difficulty
- Where is he having difficulty
The key to your child meeting your expectations is knowing your expectations that you are wanting your child to meet, because if you don’t know the expectation then your child won’t know either.
Back when I said don’t clump an example would be “you’re having difficulty doing chores”. You’re clumping that he is having difficulty doing chores-all of the chores. Instead be specific on which chore you see he is having difficulty with.
Be proactive. This discussion can’t happen in the heat of the moment, it won’t end well, and the tone of the conversation won’t be in the place of helping but rather lecturing and grilling the child.
Dr. Greene calls this process “drilling” not “grilling”, we are drilling to dig and see what unsolved problem our child has and how we can fix the problem. Here is a drilling cheat sheet to help you along this process.
Here you can find The Plan B handout that you can print out so you have these steps with you if you forget or need guidance on how to word things, or go through this process smoothly with your child.
Empathy- info gathering. “I’ve noticed that….what’s up?
Drill for information, in a calm and caring way, remember we are not mad or they are not in trouble. Use reflective listening. Let them know that you are hearing them and that you understand them. Summarize and ask for more.
“How so? I’m confused. Can you say more?” They will feel heard and know that their concerns are legitimate.
Restate all concerns in reflective listening until there’s no more.
5 Possible Responses From Your Child
During this talk with your child there are some things that you might be thinking, “this sounds great, but I know how my child will respond to this. I don’t think this will work with my child.”
Dr. Greene talks about this. He has dealt with a lot of scenarios and how kids have responded to this strategy and often it results in a power struggle with the child and parent.
So here are 5 possible responses that you may hear or experience from your child.
- They respond
- They don’t want to talk
- They refuse that the problem exists
- I don’t need to talk to you/ gets hostile
- I don’t know
If your child doesn’t want to talk
The way they respond to this has a lot to do with the history they have with us and this situation of not doing chores around the house or other tasks we have asked them to do.
If your child doesn’t want to talk he may have some good reason why he doesn’t want to, and he actually may talk about that.
If your child says “I don’t know”
When he says “I don’t know”, he might not know what they problem is because he hasn’t thought about it in a long time, because when it was a concern, his ideas/thoughts/opinions were shot down and we never valide. He got used to his concerns being ignored.
So, he lost faith that this problem will ever get solved.
If your child has difficulty talking
If your child is just having difficulty talking, there is a “trick” or “tool” you can use Dr. Greene calls it the “5 Finger”. How it works is you’ll rate the statement that you are making from 1-5 being very true to not true. They will hold up a finger rating how true your statement is. This is great for drilling to better understand your child, what they are getting stuck on and how you can help them fix their unsolved problem.
5- very true
4- pretty true
3- sort of true
2- not very true
1- not true at all
Having bumps in the road with power struggle
If your child is saying they don’t care, this is a good place to start drilling. There are going to be pumps in the road during this talk. They might say or do things that you may want to react to, this is a process but it will help. It won’t be like a lightswitch and everything will be just how you want it to go. But, having this conversation and understanding on how to fix the unsolved problem then you can get to the root of things. And note, each task there might be different roadblocks for them.
So, that is why it’s important to prioritize what you and your child thinks is the most important thing, tackle that problem, then once that problem is fixed, then you can come back to the next problem.
So, if your child won’t brush their teeth, won’t take the trash out, won’t make their bed, and won’t turn the tablet off when you say. Take a look at what is the biggest priority, and they may all be super important to you, but know that it’s not a forever thing, and you will get to the next problem.
So when you are having bumps in the road, for example, when your child says, “ you’re not the boss!” You can say, “I’m not the boss.”
“ You can’t make me talk!” You can say “you’re right I can’t make you talk.” The child will get disarmed with your honesty and they will start talking. They will have a sense that they aren’t being powered over, so they won’t need to feel defensive and fight for control.
If your child isn’t talking at all, don’t dismiss the conversation, or tell them that you will talk later, move quickly to the “5 Finger”, and this will help them loosen up and you will start to make progress to solve the problem right then and there. Because if they won’t talk now, they more than likely won’t talk later either.
Define The Adult Concern
In this step of the problem solving is to address the concern that the adult is having about the unsolved problem. This is where the collaborative part kicks in. Dr. Greene mentions that with Uterlateral solutions (the adults only) we often jump to conclusions about what is wrong. We don’t know what is making it hard for the child to meet expectations, and our theories are usually wrong.
So, we let the child know our concerns about why we worry about certain tasks not getting done, and remember this is not a grilling, it’s a calm conversation trying to see how the family can come together and support each other.
Here we explain why we have this expectation, we can use throwing the trash in the trash and not laying it around the house, example- “If you don’t pick your trash up and throw it in the trash can then the trash will start to pile up causing the house to smell, attract mice and bugs in the house and it won’t be sanitary causing germs and bacteria to grow causing everyone to get sick.”
Be clear on the expectation and why that expectation is set. What happens if it doesn’t get done?
This is the continuum of the collaboration and where you AND your child will come up with a solution. Keep in mind this is not where your child gets to run the house, or where you shoot down every idea your child has.
The solution needs to be:
- Mutually satisfying
- And addresses concerns of BOTH parties
Solve one solution at a time, or it will become too overwhelming for everyone. Here is an example of how the conversation could look like.
“ I wonder if there is something we can do with your forgetting to pick up your trash and throwing it away, and not have to stop playing so you can come clean up your trash. And also do something so the trash isn’t laying around the house attracting mice and bugs?
Give they child the first crack at ideas- “do you have any ideas?”
They may not have any ideas which is okay, but they just might surprise you.
They may say something like “I don’t want to do it, do it yourself.”
This is where we can bring up our concerns for the expectations not being met, and also remind them that you are trying to find a solution that works for both of you.
“ I imagine that would work for you. But remember we are trying to find a solution that works for both of us.”
“I forgot to add another concern, it’s important that we all work as a family and that we all help out around here. Mom helps out by…. Dad helps out by ….. We are all pitching in, so this is a way of you pitching in too, so our house can function smoothly.”
This collaboration step is definitely a two way street. There are times where the child won’t like the idea and there may be times where you don’t like the idea. Keep throwing ideas out there until both parties are addressing their concerns and both parties are satisfied. It really depends on how much you are willing to be open too.
What if your child says, “ I am happy to pitch in around the house, but I don’t know if taking the trash out is the best way.”
Again, meeting both concerns and satisfaction, and how open you are to possibly delegate a different task to your child, and have someone else take the trash out, try to be open, this is how problem solving works is if everyone is willing to keep an open mind.
Let’s Recap how to get your child to do chores without power struggles
We talked about drilling, not grilling your child to see why and where they are getting stuck with meeting expectations around the house. This works for any child with meeting any expectation that you have for them.
We need to have an open conversation and see how we can best support them and understand them.
There are 3 steps to the collaboration and proactive process:
- Empathy- see that they are getting stuck and see what is up. We talked about how you can get them talking and how to handle the situation when it gets a little bumpy.
- Define the adult’s concern- know what your concern is and why the expectation is there in the first place. Explain to your child the expectation and why it’s set in place and your concern if the expectation isn’t met.
- Solution Invitation- both parties come up with ideas to get these expectations met with an open mind. Making sure that the solution meets the following: they are realistic, mutually satisfying, and addresses concerns of both parties.
To avoid power struggle during this process make sure you do not skip steps 1 and 2. This won’t help address the unsolved problem and why it’s a problem for them in the first place, why they are getting stuck.
Remember that there is always something under the behavior, the behavior is a signal that there is an unsolved problem that needs to get fixed.
It’s not that the child didnt want to meet the expectations, it’s that they were lacking the skill and it’s the parents job to see what that problem is. Parents overdo it with rewards, bribes, threats and punishments to get the kids to meet our expectations.
All of this plays into the child’s confidence and the intrinsic motivation vs.extrinsic motivation that we talked about last week. This will build confidence because they finally have a voice and that alone will boost their internal motivation because they are meeting their own expectations and not everyone else’s expectations.
So, today after reading this I challenge you to identify 1 expectation that your child is having difficulties with and use this process.
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