What if we are asking the wrong question?
Updated: Nov 6, 2018
In this fast paced world, parents have to make many choices throughout the day, and a lot of these choices are contingent on getting some much needed cooperation from their children.
When children are uncooperative throughout the day even for a few moments, it can really throw a kink into how the rest of the day plays out.
In these moments parents need their children to be cooperative and respond quickly and efficiently but it doesn’t always work out that way. In those stressful moments, most parents find themselves asking a question like this, “How do I get them to …..?” It could be, “How do I get them to put their dishes away after dinner? How do I get them to go to bed without throwing a fit? How do I get the kids to stop fighting and actually treat each other with kindness and respect? How do I get them to listen to me when I am talking?”
All of these questions are commonly found in almost any parent’s mind in a given day. What is the answer to these never ending questions?
At times a parent may stumble upon an answer to one of those questions which has effective results, but many times the parents coercion will only seem escalate the situation and they end up feeling very discouraged.
In an attempt to change this pattern, parents try discovering more creative consequences, others just resort to good old fashioned yelling and punishment. Each of these may be successful in the short term, but they also have long term consequences on the parents relationship with their child.
Dr. Becky Bailey proposes that it isn’t new answers we need to the same old question, instead we need a new question. The problem with the question, “How do I get them to …., or How do I make them do …..?” It is based on a false assumption that parents can control their children.
The truth is that children, just like adults, have a free will and a mind that allows them to choose what they want to do. A parent may be able to physically move a child from point A to point B but they cannot actually make a child be more respectful, be more cooperative, or be more kind.
How many times do parents force their children to apologize even though the child does not actually feel sorry for what he/she did? Then the child goes through a whole fake charade where they reluctantly apologize to their brother or sister because they are forced to do it.
It is a very frustrating fact of life that people only have the power to control one person and that is themselves, and sometimes even that job is too difficult.
So let’s look at another possible question parent’s can ask themselves.
A more helpful question a parent can ask is,
“How do I help my child more likely choose ….?”
If a parent is at the store and one of their children is having a meltdown in front of the other customers, they could change the question from, “How am I going to make them stop crying and screaming”, to “How do I help my child be more likely to calm down and listen to me?”
There is a subtle but vital difference between the two questions. The first question is focused on the behavior the parents wants to stop which causes them to resist their child but the second question is focused on the outcome they want for their child which causes them to accept their child where they are at and help them from there.
This week I would encourage you to make a conscious shift and just see how it changes the moment. Remember to ask yourself, “How do I help my child be more likely to ……?”
This perspective will help your child feel like you are for them rather than against them. When a child knows you will be there to help them rather than scold them they will feel more confident that both of you can discover amazing solutions to the problem, and it also teaches them effective problem solving in the future.
Hope you have fun with this and experience a lot of success.