How To Parent Uncooperative Kids

by Simona Terron
When New York Times blogger Jessica Lahey, who is also an educator, speaker and author, was faced with a common conundrum experienced by many parents, she took it up with higher authorities. What do parents do when their previously perfectly capable child reverts to childish behavior, or worse, regresses to a point where they claim they cannot do simple tasks? Having written to her favorite parenting experts and authors, Katie Hurley, Michele Borba, Alyson Schafer and Tina Payne Bryson, Lahey then published a post with the learnings from their responses.

We did a quick round-up of three salient points that we thought were helpful takeaways for all parents conflicted about this issue. If you worry when your kids throws their hands up and say they simply cannot do something that you know they clearly can, it’s time to refer to this mini checklist to tackle the problem:
  1. Address The Anxiety Around Failure: A lot of the time, children tend to pick up on the fear of failure that parents generate unthinkingly. When faced with the possibility of trying something new that they can potentially get wrong, most kids would rather not do it at all. Children who place a lot of emphasis on doing things the right way or getting it right on the first try may feel cornered to succeed if they encounter a skill or task that seems difficult. Low self-esteem or a constant need for approval, are two good indicators of this personality trait. Watch out for either or both of these and deal with it in an age-appropriate manner.
Helpful Tip: Let your little one know that when faced with something new, they can give it a shot without fear of disappointing you. Simplify the task without talking down to them and then ask them if they’d be willing to try it out. If it’s related to school or some life skill that will make them independent, praise their courage for attempting something grown-up. Laugh about how you got it wrong when you were a little kid yourself and talk about how it helped you when you finally got it right. It will make it easier for them to relate to the struggle.
Example: A child learning to do complicated math will be relieved to know you struggled with it initially but that conquering it helped you get better grades eventually.
  1. Empower Them With Autonomy: Kids are so accustomed to being told what to do that they internalize the struggle to be heard and seen as functioning individuals. All day at school they get told what to think, learn, read and write, and when they come home, their primary instinct is to rebel against that dictatorial set up and establish their identity. Sometimes the only avenue they find to express themselves is to be obstinate and refuse everything that’s expected of them. This can soon transform into rage and tantrums if not seen for what it is – a desire to be viewed as capable beings.
Helpful Tip: Despite your wish to get them to do what’s best for them, it pays to sit back and ask them what they would like instead. You can rationalize with them if they’re being unreasonable but be willing to give them a platform to air their grievances and talk them through instead of simply shutting them down and resorting to the old parental fave, “Because I said so”.
Example: If your teen is railing about how he can’t play videogames all night, point out how he needs his rest and that his eyes will benefit from the break. Ask him if he would be as eager to play them if he didn’t have time to do his other tasks and then be rewarded by an hour of gaming. Be willing to hear him out if he has a master plan for how he will be happier after he cracks a particularly tough level in order to win bonus points. At that age, these things can actually make sleep and rested eyes pale in comparison as priorities.
  1. Discourage Shirking: Kids are often way smarter than we give them credit for. Their ability to constantly pick up things we presume are above their ken is something you should never lose sight of. Non-verbal cues are crucial, which is why impatient sighs or rolling your eyes when they take too long to do something is enough for them to give up in frustration and just let you rush in and take over. Avoid this trap no matter how hard it is and feel free to get a reality check on your own triggers.
Helpful Tip: We’re all in a perpetual hurry, running on treadmills of our own making and then ruing the way we live like hamsters. Don’t let this extend to your parenting and child-rearing role as well. Sometimes it takes strength and patience to lead by example and show your child that slow can be good too.
Example: If you’re getting late for the school bus and they’re dawdling with making their bed, let them leave it for later. Ensure that they do it when they’re back from school but don’t do it for them. There really are worse things than an unmade bed.

Parenting is a tough task when you struggle with wanting to get everything right. Ease up on the perfectionism and realize that it’s a journey, one that should be enjoyed by both you and your kids. And as long as there’s enough love and personal growth going around, maybe it’s okay to let go a little and enjoy the ride together.

Image: Shutterstock
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