"I've tried everything, but I just can't get through to this child!"

If you can't get through to your child, then your child isn't open to your influence. That makes parenting well almost impossible. 

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

As children develop, they naturally want to explore the world and learn for themselves. But they need to know that their parents are available, providing a safe base for them. We can't control another human being, but as long as our child feels warmly connected to us, they look to us for love, protection, guidance. We have influence.

So why would a child stop looking to their parent for guidance? Usually this happens when children begin to think we aren't listening, or we wouldn't understand, or we just don't care about what matters to them.

That doesn't mean we've done something wrong. It might mean our child is strong-willed and an experiential learner, and they just want to do what they want, even if we don't like it. But still, in that case, they are willing to risk the relationship for what they want, and that's a sign that the relationship needs strengthening.

Bottom line: Our children shut us out when they think they can't get through to us

So if you want more influence with your child, the "cure" is to strengthen and sweeten your relationship. That doesn't mean you just say yes to whatever your child wants. Mostly, it's whether your child trusts you to understand their perspective, believe in them, and be on their side, no matter what. 

  • Are you willing to listen, to try to see things from your child's perspective? The child learns that he doesn't get everything he wants, but he gets a parent who understands, no matter what.
  • Can you set limits with empathy, meaning that you offer understanding of what he wants and why, even when you can't say yes? The child accepts limits more readily.  
  • Are you looking for a win-win solution or do you insist on being right (which by definition means someone else has to be wrong)? The child learns that in a relationship, we try to make it work for both people.
  • Are you able to tolerate her disappointment, sadness and anger, or does she need to hide them? The child learns to "befriend" her emotions, which helps her learn to regulate them.
  • When you look at your child, do you see mostly positives, no matter what he's done wrong? The child learns to see himself as good, which means he's more likely to "do good."

Parenting is a form of partnership, where we guide and assist our child. Our intention to join, to partner, is what helps our child feel safe enough to accept our guidance. None of us ever change except from a place of safety. The key is to breathe, work through your own feelings, and get clear on your positive intention before you open your mouth. Your child may not know what words are going through your mind, but he or she feels your intention.

Life sometimes feels like a battle, but our children are never the enemy.  Yes, you are responsible for "teaching" your child to act right. But kids don't act right when we see them as "wrong." We need to hold onto a vision of our child's best self, for our child to act as that self. If we can manage our own emotions, we can find the good will to see our child's perspective.  

That doesn't mean we agree with her behavior, just that we see she's struggling, and we want to help her feel better, so she can do better.  Once your child feels you're on her side, rather than out to control her, everything can shift. 

Then, you may not even have to say a word to make miracles happen.

"The key to communication is not what we say, but rather the attitude that lies behind what we say... all of us are telepathically communicating all the time. Every moment, we are choosing to join or to separate, and the person to whom we're speaking feels what we have chosen regardless of our words." -- Marianne Williamson

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