Every day, our Family Coaches meet with parents to help them work through challenges. This story has been adapted one of these real-life conversations.
Dear Family Coach – help!
We have three children – eight, six and two, and I feel life is frantic, with too much shouting – from us, the parents. Our issue is our middle child, Billie. We are struggling to get him to listen without it escalating into a fight to get him to manage his emotions when things aren’t going his way.
The other two are compliant and I feel all our attention is going into trying to get Billie to ‘be nice’ (especially to his siblings) and to ‘behave’ (i.e. not snatching because he wants to be first)!
He can be lovely and caring and has great moments. In fact, we’ve had three good days this week! The rest have been up and down. Our other kids are struggling as we don’t get to have time with them as we are always trying to discipline Billie.
- And then the learned the word ‘no’
- Say goodbye to fights in the car
- Got a strong-willed kid? This one’s for you.
Family Coach response
I completely understand why you feel you are living in a war zone if you feel you are consistently coming up against your powerful Billie.
Often children’s negative behaviour stems from a place of anxiety. A helpful question to consider is, “Does Billie feel heard?” Do some detective work here and try figure out what’s really going on underneath the hard behaviour.
As parents, looking at ourselves in moments like this is also a good idea. Sometimes we get into a rut of reacting the same way to flash points and making little progress. I’d like to suggest trying some KFC parenting.
Kind – Keep the fight out of your voice as Billie will feel he needs to challenge you and defend himself.
Firm – Children desperately need firmness. Decide on what your ‘non-negotiables’ are and stand your ground.
Calm – (Now this is the hardest one but hand on heart, the strategy I get the most positive feedback from parents on). Decide you don’t want to fight with him over these issues again. Drop your voice and communicate in a manner that carries your confidence (fake it, if necessary). If you need to press pause, do it – let Billie know you will return to the discussion once you are both calm.
Change your script
Once you’ve dropped your voice, try changing scripts. “I’m happy to talk to you when your voice is as calm as mine.” “If you want an answer now it is no but if you give me some time to consider then you may be surprised.” Other helpful phrases – “Show me how you can come to the table when I call you for dinner/get your PJs on super quick so we can have that story/tidy these LEGO blocks before we head outside for a bike ride.” Children will rise to our positive expectations, especially if we set a level of expectation of compliance.
Change your lens
Catch Billie ‘doing it right’! We sometimes find ourselves in the pattern of noticing our kids’ unacceptable behaviour more than when they get it right. Comment when he does – “Good choice, Billie!”
Build a strong connection
I see you feel you spend a lot of time dealing with his behaviour and that your other children are missing out. How about talking to your husband about putting some special one-on-one time with Billie in the diary? Give Billie a choice of what he would like to do – an ice cream, swimming, play at the park. He will love having something to look forward to. Circle this special time on the calendar and build his anticipation. Do this with your other two children too.
Support each other
Another helpful idea is to ask your husband to support you during his ‘daddy dates’. In the context of fun and connection, things can be gently discussed and worked through. “Hey buddy, you know how last week you told Mum that she was a bully and threw your school bag at the wall? That wasn’t cool. I understand you were frustrated about ___________. Can you think of a better way you could have dealt with that?”
We sometimes find ourselves in the pattern of noticing our kids’ unacceptable behaviour more than when they get it right.
We found your tips so helpful and yes, we were definitely in the groove of seeing Billie being difficult and not noticing when he was making good choices. We have both tried hard to change our lenses, and there has definitely been a turnaround.
Billie and his dad have been on two dates. One to the skate park and the other fishing and he was such a happy boy leading up to these. We can see that he needs that one-on-one attention. I have been working on my KFC. The Calm was a biggie for me but I’m staying focused and using some of those phrases and have noticed when I’m calmer, so is he.
Thanks again for your helpful, practical advice. We realise it’s a work in process and we are thrilled to see change so quickly in our wonderful boy.
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