The parenting struggle is real. We don’t want to yell at our kids, but sometimes, we just can’t help it. We want them to turn off their video games, pick up their toys and get ready for bed. So what’s a stressed-out parent supposed to do?
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Good communication between parents and children starts with staying cool, as hard as that may be. “As parents or caregivers, we may not always recognize the effects that our emotions and actions have on kids,” says pediatrician Kimberly Churbock, MD. “Kids are like sponges — they pick up on our body language and verbal cues, so when we’re upset or anxious, they may pick up on that and get confused or scared or not know how to respond.”
That’s why techniques like yelling, bribing and threatening punishment likely aren’t the best ways to get kids to do what you ask of them. Instead, Dr. Churbock offers this advice for addressing the core causes of why kids don’t obey and getting to get them on the right track.
Start with a positive attitude
Kids have a hard time with emotional regulation, so if they see you exhibit similar emotions, it becomes a cycle that feeds into itself. Instead of yelling, try approaching the situation calmly and they may react the same way.
It’s also important to reward them for good behavior even if it’s something as small as being nice at dinner. “In my experience, positive reinforcement and praise of desired behaviors is much more effective than negative, disciplinary communication,” Dr. Churbock notes.
Kids pick up on your tone and body language, and not just when you’re communicating with them. “We should be mindful of our words and also our body language, whether we’re directly interacting with kids or with other adults and caretakers,” Dr. Churbock advises. This can be especially tough in co-parenting or blended family situations, but remember that kids can perceive when tensions may be high. By being patient, taking a deep a breath and being mindful of your words, you increase your ability to defuse the situation instead of making it worse
Even if they might not understand the names of complex emotions like frustration, saying to a child, “You seem frustrated,” can help put a name to their feelings. Over time, as they develop their own voices and vocabulary to verbalize their wants and needs, they can learn to use these expressive words rather than act out. This approach to conversation works better than yelling because it gives your child the opportunity to respond rather than react.
Give them choices
Dr. Churbock suggests this as a way to give kids a sense of confidence and control, even if you’re asking them to do an undesirable task. If your child struggles with bath time, for example, give them the choice of which toy they want to bring into the tub, or whether they want bubbles.
If your child’s aggression continues, be careful you don’t give in by trying to bribe them. If you do this, they may excuse their actions because they’re getting “rewarded” anyway. Instead, you want to set boundaries and be firm about what those are.
Kids typically respond well if you give them the opportunity to do good. Instead of rushing headlong into an argument, try counting out loud to five or give them a time limit to do what you ask. By making it clear that there is a limit to their actions, you set the stage for them to turn things around on their terms.
The bottom line
It’s important to enter into every situation with an open mind, calm manner and stable attitude. If your kid is getting out of control, there are some measures you can do to bring them back to center starting with open communication and giving them the opportunity to respond kindly.
Most importantly, Dr. Churbock reiterates that it’s always OK to step away from a situation if you feel your own emotions starting to bubble over. Just remember that every situation is different and each time this happens, it’s another opportunity to instill learned behaviors that are positive and productive.