Friday, November 8, 2013

When your child yells at you: Expecting and teaching respectful behavior

Perhaps it was the foot stomp punctuating the shrill rebuttal to your simple question that caught your attention today.   Lately, it seems “normal” has been your child shrieking at you every time you ask her to do anything. How did this happen?  You’re five feet eight inches tall and thirty-five years old.  She’s four-years-old, 3 feet tall and weighs in at 37 pounds yet you’re jumping like a marionette puppet every time she barks an order. You’ve tried telling her not to speak to you that way, but that only resulted in a bigger scene.  The idea of washing her mouth out with soap has also crossed your mind, but your friend tried it and her daughter is still sounding like a “tough” off the docks.  It’s occurring so frequently now you’ve given up trying to change it and instead rush to grant her what she wants just to quiet her down.  But this is feeling lousy.  Does it really have to be this way?

An emotion coach treats children respectfully but she also expects respect.  

Healthy relationships are reciprocal.  That means the emotion coach will respond sensitively and courteously, but she will also insist that her child will be respectful too.
So when your child’s tone strikes you wrong or she rolls her eyes at you as she slaps away the snack you’ve just offered her, stop and teach your child to be respected and respectful.  Here’s what it looks like.

1.  Clarify your expectations:  If you have a foundational sense of what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not, you will be more confident working with your child.  Lynn and I have our guideline.

If a behavior is:

  • Unsafe
  • Hurtful
  • Or disrespectful to self, others or the environment
  • It’s the adult’s job to stop it.

Clear expectations eliminate the quandary you might face wondering is this “normal development?”  Or, can I really expect my child to speak to me in a respectful tone.  If it feels disrespectful to you – it is and it needs to be addressed.  No question about it.  No need to doubt yourself or wonder if you’re being “mean” or too demanding.

2.  Connect:  This is unacceptable behavior, but before the teachable moment can occur you’ve got to draw your child to you and calm her enough so that she can look at you and hear your words.  That requires saying something such as:

  • “I’m listening.  
  • I think you have something important to say.  
  • Let’s try that again.  Say it in a way that makes me want to listen.” 

If she hasn’t the faintest idea of how to speak respectfully, you may have to give her the words.  For example, “Thank you mom, but I don’t care for any right now.”  Or, “Mom, may I please have a choice?”
Or, “Mom, may I please have a few more minutes?”

3. Wait:   If your child’s response is to snort in disapproval or turn away from you refusing to respond, don’t push.  Instead simply say,

  • “We’ll wait. 
  • When you are ready to ask me in a way that makes me want to listen, I will give it to you.”

We know you’re thinking just a minute, she’s yelling at me and I’m going to give her what she wants.  Isn’t that just reinforcing poor behavior?  Remember you’re teaching her to ask respectfully which means it has to be reinforced when she does.  This is not going to always be the case.  Once she’s speaking respectfully to you, you will move into problem solving with her so that both of your interests are addressed, but initially you’re simply teaching her to begin the conversation respectfully.  This is a first step- not the final one.

4. Don’t turn it into a power struggle:  If you have the child who is committed to her goals it can take her a long time to unlock when you first insist the language and tone change.  A way to teach without drawing this out is to give her a choice.

  • “Would you like to say it this way, or would you like to listen while I say it?” 
  • If she asks that you say it, do so, then add, “Next time I know you’ll try harder to remember to say it that way.”  

Once again we suspect your brain is screaming, Come on, give me a break!  Now I’m saying it and she’s getting what she wants?  But remember as an emotion coach your goal is clear in your mind – you are modeling and teaching respectful communication.  You know there will be a similar situation in the near future, and when that occurs you can say to her,

  • “Let’s try that again.”  
  • “Remember how we talked about saying it in a way that makes others want to listen?”  

We know it’s difficult to believe, but your child will actually say it because she’s not feeling backed into a corner.   If she doesn’t once again, you’ll remind her that “You’ll wait, and once she asks courteously you’ll give it to her.”

5. Expect respect with siblings and peers:  The same expectation remains in place for how your child treats other children.   When your child shouts, “No, that’s mine, you can’t have it.”  Intervene; say to her, 
  • “I will help you.”
  • “I think you have something important to tell your sister.”  
  • “Say it in a way that makes her want to listen.”  
Then teach her to say,
  • “I’m not finished yet.”  
  • Or, “I do not want to share this.”  
  • Or, “I need fifteen more minutes, and then you can have it.”  
Can you expect respect?  Absolutely, in fact we believe that it’s critical because your child is watching, listening and experimenting, in an attempt to discover how you treat people.   Expecting your child to speak to you respectfully is just as important as you treating him respectfully.  Doing so lays the foundation for all of his future relationships.  

It’s worth taking the few minutes to stop, connect and teach that everyone deserves to be treated respectfully.

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