TIDY your room, wash your hands and we’ll have dinner. Except you don’t manage to say it all to your child; you get as far as “tidy your...” and he begins talking over you.
Alternatively, he makes excuses: “I’m tired”, throwing himself on the floor, or, he asks why, you explain, he asks why, and it becomes a game of verbal volleyball.
Parents need to step out of the game, says Val Mullally, parent coach and author of Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t.
“Talking over you is a game. So is answering back and diverting the focus of conversation. Endlessly repeating instructions isn’t helpful.”
Mullally says parenting is a balancing act between being attuned and calm assertiveness.
When your child ignores/refuses your request, it’s helpful for parents to see themselves as the calm adult who can deal with this.
“Ask: What’s the intention behind the supposed ignoring? Maybe your child is absorbed in play.
"Maybe he’s had a busy day at school and is hungry for quiet time.
"Perhaps the task you’re asking is too daunting. Or he needs your support with something.”
If turning a deaf ear is new, your child may be going through a developmental change.
Aged two, he realises he’s a person apart from you and is exploring the word “no”, or, he’s a pre-teen, not heeding requests to be up in time for breakfast before heading out to school.
“At this stage, children find it hard to get up; the teen brain needs sleep at 8am, 9am,” says Mullally.
However, she’s adamant children need boundaries.
“We leave them unsafe if we don’t give them boundaries. They need to realise there are consequences in every life situation.”
It’s helpful to offer choices, where consequences are clear: You can choose to do your homework now, but if you choose to do it later, you won’t be watching TV.
Mullally says strategies for difficult child behaviour won’t work if parents don’t address the home culture.
She suggests sitting with children, getting everybody to write the words they’d like home to be and then distilling the list to just three, eg “fun”, “peace”, “togetherness”.
Write these on a wall chart.
This, she says, focuses parents on choosing a behaviour-management approach to fit with home/family culture.
If your child refuses to help put away groceries, discuss it with them later when you’re calm: ‘I was disappointed you didn’t help. I wanted to get it done quickly so we could do something fun together (pointing them to the values you’re highlighting). What could we do differently next time?’
* Whenever you feel you want to raise your voice, it’s probably more helpful to lower it.
* Consider that your child might be doing the best they can right now.
* Be calm yet assertive — let your body language and tone of voice give sense of clarity and firmness.
* Focus on the particular issue at hand and how to deal with it in a way that creates co-operation.
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