How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child

Parenting Strategies for All Ages

Why Your Child Fights You

Are you wondering why every time you ask your child not to do something he does

Are you wondering why every time you ask your child not to do something he does the opposite? Parents tend to take it very personally when their child does not listen. “Doesn’t my child love me? Is he going to be on a therapist’s couch forever?”, they worry. These constant battles with your child are both physically and mentally taxing and you can easily end up feeling powerless and regretful about the things you do.

Children are not easy, and being a parent is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. While I cannot give you a magic wand for getting immediate compliance from your kids, I can offer you some important insight that will make a huge difference in your relationship. There are actually six major developmental issues that cause your child to fight you. If you understand these issues, you will handle situations more effectively and gain greater co-operation.

Children are naturally curious. Your baby will crawl over to the light switch repeatedly because it is simply dazzling to her. She loves life and has a need to explore new things but has no clue about consequences. This same drive sends kids running into the street, climbing up on a chair and draws older kids into trouble. The best way to manage your young explorer is to child-proof your home; acknowledge her curiousity, set limits clearly and explain them. For instance, you can tell her, “I can see you’re curious about the stove. It’s OK to be curious, but you cannot touch the stove. It’s hot and you can hurt yourself.” Older kids need a similar approach.

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Children live in the here and now. They cannot understand the need to rush. If your child is happily playing with his trains and it's time to leave for school, he will not grasp the urgency of relinquishing his game. If you acknowledge the issue, explain your reasons, and offer a solution, it will be more effective than screaming. For instance, you might say, “I know you’re having a great time with your trains, but we have to leave for school. Let’s put the trains on the shelf and the minute we get home from school, you can play with them.” Adding a motivator will also help move him along, for example, “We have to hurry. Sam is probably waiting for you in the block area.”

Children live according to the pleasure principle. They will continue to jump on your bed even if you are yelling at them, because it is fun. In this case you might say, “You need to come down from the couch. Then, explain with an objective reason, for instance, “It’s our job to keep the furniture safe.”

Children have huge wishes and strong desires. When you walk into a toy store, it is natural for kids to desire every shiny toy they see. If you acknowledge your child’s wish, set a limit and offer a solution, your child will be less likely to throw herself on the floor when you draw a line. For example, you can tell her, “I know you would like to get everything you see, but we can only buy one toy today. Let’s put the other toys on your wish list.”

Children are impulsive. They will take a cookie off the table even if you have warned them not to. Your child may hit when angered because he is not so far from being a baby when he expressed himself physically. Set a limit, “I can see you’re angry. We don’t hit”, then suggest a more positive choice, for instance,“Use your words. Say ‘I’m angry.’”

Children have a strong need to establish their independence. In essence, that is what childhood is all about. Children have to separate from their parents and become unique individuals. The word “No,” becomes one of the first major steps a child takes to assert herself. It is therefore crucial to show respect for your child’s independence. For instance, tell her, “I know you would really like to finish your drawing, but we have to go now”. Give her choices when you can, such as, “You can wear your blue pants or your black ones.”

If you view your children’s resistant behaviors as caused by these developmental issues and not as bad behavior, you will feel more in control and respond in an effective way. Ultimately, as you use this new approach, your child will begin to fight you less because he feels you understand and respect him.

Meri Wallace, LCSW, is a parenting expert and child and family therapist.

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