Have you had it with your child not listening to you? You’re not alone…this is one of the most common complaints parents have about their children’s behavior. Some parents I know even consider it the status quo, and looking at the portrayals of families in constant conflict in TV and movies, it’s not hard to understand why. On the screen and in real life, kids just ignore what their parents are saying much of the time.
Typical Advice: Focus on Compliance
Many parenting experts focus on COMPLIANCE, or getting a child to behave through the use of consequences. “If you don’t follow through with your bottom line consequences,” they say, “your child will not be motivated to listen to you.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of consequences as an important tool in the leadership toolbox. But sometimes it’s the wrong strategy. Focusing on compliance and consequences does nothing to improve the parent/child relationship. It might help temporarily (since your daughter wants those new skinny jeans, she might cooperate more than usual). But it won’t help in the longrun if a child is misbehaving because the parent/child connection is damaged. If there’s an underlying wound that hasn’t been addressed, you’ll just keep going round and round. Trying to get her to behave. Enforcing consequences. Keeping her on track. Enforcing consequences. The same problems will recur. I call this “the hamster wheel of parenting.”
Acceptance Before Compliance
Believe it or not, some kids WANT TO PLEASE THEIR PARENTS. And I’m not just talking about the sweet, naturally compliant children who never cause a minute’s trouble. Children who feel seen and accepted for who they are by their parents will feel warmly connected, and are far more likely to want to please you than children who do not feel seen and accepted. Acceptance of who your child is should be the starting point in your parenting, not something that is given when your child fulfills your expectations.
Look at the nature of your underlying relationship with your child. Is it warm and connected, or has it become cold and hostile? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that when your child listens to you and does what you want, you’ll be more loving and accepting.
In Raise the Child You’ve Got—Not the One You Want, I write about the relationship between feeling accepted by your parents and wanting to please them.
…when acceptance is conditional on a child’s actions,he is unlikely to develop the warm and secure attachment that develops when acceptance is given unconditionally. Without that positive attachment, many of these children don’t even
want to please their parents. Even if they were capable of living up to their parents’ expectations, they refuse to do so. They don’t feel seen, understood, or accepted for who they are, and once they reach a certain age, they just stop trying.
If your child doesn’t listen to you, are you willing to consider that there may be an underlying wound that is preventing a warm parent/child connection? How might you focus on accepting your child in order to heal that wound?