I often work with parents who report that they are struggling with gaining their childs cooperation and that their child doesn't "listen". Usually, when I ask for a specific example what I find out is that it is the parent who was not listening to the child, but not intentionally. Children, particularly younger ones, communicate through their behavior which is often misunderstood by their parents. Let me explain with an example. One weekend our family was out furniture shopping and my then 3 year old daughter needed to go to the restroom. When we walked into one of the bathroom stalls she started fussing and saying she didn't want to go in that stall and started getting more upset when I tried to encourage her to go ahead and go. I could have easily interpreted this behavior as defiant and engaged in a power struggle with her. But instead, I said, "there is something in here that you don't like and you don't want to use the bathroom in here". I asked her if she would like to try out the other stall and she said yes. We then walked into the other bathroom stall and she hopped right on and went potty. I reflected, "there was something you didn't like about the other potty, but you feel okay about this one" and she stated, "that one was too loud, it scared me". Someone had flushed the toilet right next to us, and it was loud. In her mind it was connected to the stall we were in. When we walked out, the woman who had flushed that other toilet said, "I am a school teacher and I am so impressed with how you handled that situation. I often see parents who don't listen to their children and force them to do something not understanding why they are upset". That was one of my better parenting moments and one that I often remember when I get frustrated with my children when they aren't cooperating. I realize that I need to take a step back and see what might be happening with them that I'm not hearing or seeing. By reflecting and noticing her discomfort, I was able to give her an option that provided her a sense of being heard and understood and we resolved the problem together. Often times power struggles can be avoided by connecting with your child this way.
Parents often use a lot of words when communicating with their children and often times talk "at" them, particularly when trying to get them to cooperate and do something we want them to do. If your child continues to be resistent, that is the time to take a step back and assess the situation, use fewer words and listen to your child. By attempting to enter your child's world, you will likely be much more successful in gaining their cooperation. These 3 steps will help you more effectively connect with your child and increase the chances of gaining their cooperation: