All fed-up with trying to get her kids to behave, she let herself fall on the couch; frustrated and helpless; then she turned towards me and said, “How do you EVER get kids to do things without threatening them?!”
I know how she felt; and how every loving parent feels when we have to resort to use pressure for simple every-day tasks. Enforcing discipline and following the daily-routine makes the home a battle ground - it is traumatizing for the kids and the parents!
Although strickness and smacking (that does not cause injury) is one of the methods of discipline, its effectiveness decreases when overdone and thus, should only be used when the issue is serious (like obligatory prayers.) and the child is likely to benefit and learn the lesson – or else, it backfires and makes kids act out worse; rather than better.
…and the most distressing thing is the guilt which stays with you throughout the day.
So, this (adapted) reply (below) by a parenting expert Dr. Laura, gives some pretty practical tips to help you keep calm and take control of the situations when you need not use force.
Though these tips seem overwhelming at first and a daunting task for you as the parent – I’d say it’s worth the effort because kids need compassion and love in order to grow emotionally healthy, and as shepherds; it’s our duty to exert every effort as much as we can to give them the balanced environment they need.
- Shawana A. Aziz
“I’m struggling with how to enforce limits without a consequence. For example, brushing teeth — she’ll refuse. It’s not reasonable for me to do it by force, so I tell her if she can’t brush her teeth, I can’t read a bedtime story to her. I do not understand how to set limits if there are no consequences for ignoring the limit.”
Great question. How do we “make” our child do what we want, if we don’t (want to) use force (all the time)? And brushing teeth is a perfect example, because I’ve never met a child who was internally motivated to brush his teeth — or a parent who hasn’t been frustrated trying to get kids to brush.
Naturally, we’re tempted to threaten our child with punishment. That is, in fact, the only way to force a human to do something they don’t want to do. But look at the cost (of overdoing it):
- It removes from the bedtime routine the one thing that brings our child closer (the bedtime story.) Result: a child who is LESS motivated to cooperate, now and with more important issues.
- You lose the opportunity to read with your child, which is arguably one of the most important parent-child interactions in your day, both intellectually and emotionally.
- It creates a power struggle by using threats to gain compliance, instead of creating a relationship where our child WANTS to cooperate. What will we do when our child is not motivated by this particular threat? We’ll have to up the ante, by threatening a bigger consequence. Sooner or later, that always leads to a stand-off, unless we’re willing to use violence.
- It teaches our child that disagreements should be resolved with threats and force, rather than recognizing both people’s perspectives and finding a win/win situation.
These aren’t results we want. But we do, at times, have to insist on certain things. For instance, brushing teeth.
What can we do?
1. Stay calm
If you get upset, it moves your child into fight or flight, which makes you look like the enemy — and makes her less likely to cooperate. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is NOT an emergency. You always have the power to calm the storm, or to inflame it.
2. Acknowledge your child’s perspective
– sincerely and with empathy. ”You really don’t like brushing your teeth, do you, Sweetie? I hear you, it’s boring to stand there and brush when you’d rather be playing.”
3. Restate your limit:
“In this house, we all brush our teeth before bed. That keeps our teeth healthy.”
4. Give her what she wants in her mind using wish fulfillment
“When you’re all grown up, you may decide NEVER to brush your teeth again! …Or maybe you’ll have toothpaste that tastes like something super delicious and you’ll LOVE brushing!”
Brain scans show that when we imagine having what we want, the brain indicates satisfaction as if we actually have it, so this helps your child feel better. And using imagination to “think” about the issue gives your child more access to the rational brain. Finally, you’re showing her that you do care about her happiness, even when you can’t say yes to what she wants.
5. Invite cooperation through play.
Once you make it a game, you eliminate the stand-off. Unless kids are upset or tired, they can’t resist an invitation to play. So get him giggling.
- Brush all over his body — his arm, his ear, his belly. “Is this where I should brush?” (“No, Mummy, here!”)
- Challenge him/her to a teeth-brushing contest.
- Brush his teeth and comment on everything you find in there: “Is that spaghetti?…Hey, I think there’s treasure under there!”
- Make funny faces at him while he brushes.
6. Find a win/win solution.
- “Hmm… you don’t want to brush…AND we need to keep those teeth clean so the sugar bugs don’t eat holes in them….What can we do to make this work for both of us?”
- “Want to brush Teddy’s teeth and then I’ll brush yours?”
- “Want to brush MY teeth at the same time that I brush yours?”
- “How about if I recite your favorite poetry to you while you brush?”
- “Maybe I should hold you up here so you can look in the mirror while we brush?”
- “Want me to read to you while you brush?” (This was the strategy that worked best with my daughter. As a teen, she still read to herself while she brushed!)
If you stay calm, you can almost always find a win/win solution. Of course, what works this week will stop working next week, so finding new strategies will require creativity on your part. But as it becomes clear to your child that brushing is non-negotiable, there will be less resistance.
Is this more work than just making your child brush?
Yes, unfortunately it is.
But it’s much more pleasant than holding her down or punishing her. And it’s better for your child’s development. Look what she’s learning:
- Mom and Dad care about what I want and try to work with me instead of just using their power to force and threaten. That makes me want to cooperate with them.
- I’m not a bad person for not wanting to brush my teeth. My parents understand.
- People can have different perspectives and needs; if we think outside the box we can always find a solution that works for everyone.
- Brushing teeth isn’t so bad. It’s even fun, because I get to feel close to my parents.
- I LOVE my parents. They’re awesome. I would never want to disappoint them.