Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Getting Your Child's Cooperation

The Way It Is

Children really want to cooperate. By our very nature we enjoy community and find interaction with others pleasurable.  However,  if what you are asking your child to do interferes with one of his inborn needs, he is not going to willingly cooperate with you.  You may not understand just how deep your children's needs are, and how some of the things you see as very mundane can be so vitally important.  You may not realize that some of the things that you believe are necessary to be a good parent may actually be interfering with your child becoming all he could be, and may be creating an obstacle to her growing up healthy and unhindered.

This is very difficult to discuss, mostly because as soon as the topic is introduced, people begin to get angry and start trying to defend the way things are, as if it's the best way.  So I ask you to take a deep breath, relax, and just consider for a moment why things are the way they are, and whether or not they are so good that we are unwilling to try something else.

We have been led to believe that human beings are selfish, destructive and pretty much evil from the time they are born, and that as parents, it's our job to mold them into civilized, rational human beings. Mostly this idea originated with antiquated religious beliefs that emphasized the idea of original sin. This mindset led parents to believe that when a child tries to meet his legitimate needs, or when he asserts his opinion about what he wants, that this self-will is wrong, that children cannot know what is best for them, and they need to learn to listen to and obey their parents without question. This idea is utterly and completely in error. Furthermore, the methods used to correct this so-called disobedient behavior constitute nothing more than physical and emotional child abuse. Anytime one resorts to physical or emotional pain or manipulation to force someone to do what they want, THAT is abuse. If a man hits his wife to get her to do what he wants, that is considered a crime, but we see it as acceptable to physically acost a child to get him to do what you want.  Or we try to use emotional or intellectual manipulation to try and get children to change. There is no logic in that, no matter how benevolent a person might be in trying to change a child's behavior, doing it through force is wrong. Furthermore, trying to force someone to do what you want, no matter what the person's age, is disrespectful to that person. Force and control are not the tools of a loving and logical parent.

And what's more important, it is totally 

Why do people think it is necessary to force children to change their behavior? Because they either have been led to believe that certain behaviors are wrong, or because the behavior is inconvenient for the parent.

There are ways to get your child's cooperation, but they require you to learn new, more respectful ways of talking and communicating.  These methods can be used with children, spouses, employers, in fact, with anyone, because they are simple, respectful ways of behaving, which encourage the other person to consider your point of view.  There are twelve roadblocks to communication which every human being uses at one time or another, which almost completely guarantee that the other person is NOT going to listen to you.  In fact, most people are shocked to find that 95% of their normal ways of communicating are part of these roadblocks.

We teach Aware Parenting, Family Effectiveness Training, and the Emotional Freedom Technique.  These methods create partnership relationships rather than authoritarian relationships based on power and control.  The partnership relationship is based upon respect, choices and developing inner discipline, something that punishment does NOT teach or encourage. The more you rely upon external restraints to force you to do what is right, the less time you will spend actually thinking about and considering the merits of which is the best choice. Furthermore, we are usually NOT interested in listening to someone else who thinks they have the right to control us. Why would I pay any attention to someone who is trying to force me and is not respecting me?  Your children will be more likely to listen to your point of view if they have been reared with your respect from the beginning of their lives.

If, however, you have not reared them that way, you can STOP NOW and learn respectful, humane, sincere ways of talking with and dealing with your family members. 

The Way it Should Be

Imagine that you have arranged your home so that there are no dangers to a child.  When you built it, you had the electrical outlets wired at your eye level, so young children could not reach them. You have only natural cleaning products in your home, made of things like lemon juice, baking soda, salt and vinegar, nothing that would harm a child. All glass and valuable items are in locked closets, or on high shelves mounted in the wall that children cannot reach.  There is nothing in this house that is harmful to a child, that can be reached by a child.

Consequently, you have no reason to run after your child all day long saying "No, don't do that." There's nothing in your home that your child can't touch or explore on his own so he can become familiar with the way things work.

When you get up in the morning, you nurse your toddler for both nutritional and emotional comfort, and then the child goes about his business, doing what he needs and wants to do. At this stage of his life, his wants and needs are the same. If a child wants to touch something, to do something, it's because he needs to do it to learn. It's important that he be allowed to experience and discover the world without all the conditions which parents place on their children. 

A child's play is his work; play is the way he learns. A child learns by watching his parents and being allowed to participate. You don't have to pick out the child's clothes, let him choose and as he tryies on different clothes and watches how you dress yourself, he will ask questions, and you will be able to introduce the idea that certain colors and patterns match, and certain kinds of clothes are for certain weather.  At this point, it doesn't matter what he or she wears, it matters that they are able to learn., and they learn best by deciding for themselves based upon their experience. When you struggle to get the child to wear what YOU want, you are only creating a struggle and causing antagonism in your relationship which is going to backfire on you later on. And, most importantly, what a person wears ought to be that person's choice. You have no right to force your will on someone, except in cases of emergency where the person's physical life is in danger.

But you ask, what about mealtime and bedtime and homework and chores and other things children don't like to do?  Well, I don't blame them, and it should be their choice when and where and what they eat, when they go to bed, when they work and play.  After all, YOU decide those things for yourself, they ought to be able to choose as well.

Well, you might say, what if they choose not to eat vegetables or not go to school or not to take a bath for a week?  Well, that's their choice, and it should be honored. When you became a parent, you committed to making yourself available to nurture the child's normal, healthy development, whatever that takes. I have to say that my children were allowed to decide these things for themselves, and they are all the better for it. They have chosen to live a life that is better, that is outside what the constraints of social conformity would force on people, and that is exactly the same choice each human being should have.

Your Job as a parent is to provide a safety net so that your children can safely explore until they learn what is good and what is not, what is safe and what is not.  Your job is NOT to mold them into what YOU want them to be.  It's your child's job to decide who and what he wants to be.  You step in ONLY when safety demands it, and even then there is an appropriate way to step in that does not disrespect the child. Using the language of acceptance is the key.  

My children learned at home, or at the park, or at the library, or just on their own, whenever they liked. They ate what they wanted, when they wanted. They went to bed when they were tired. And now, at age 25, my son does eat vegetables and has created a career for himself that is satisfying and he gets to choose when he gets up and works and when he doesn't. He has the freedom to choose, and the freedom to create the life he wants.  But if he had been forced to do things the way the rest of society says they should be, he would have been pigeon-holed into a mold that I did not want him to be forced into. I believe every human being has the right to choose the kind of life they will live.

Children don't need to be told what to think, they are intelligent and can decide for themselves, given that you provide models for them to observe, and are willing to respect their choices. They don't need to be punished for anything. Most of the things they are punished for are things that adults THINK they need or should do, they are not things that are life and death. 

And when they are upset about something, they have the right to cry or express their feelings about why they are upset. But we as parents want them to be quiet, stop whining, stuff their feelings down, and just fall in line and do what we ant them to.  That is NOT healthy.

Now that's not just my opinion, when people are given respect and autonomy, studies show they are healthier.  But as parents, even if you are not convinced that children should be allowed to make their own decisions, there are still tried and true ways to help INFLUENCE them to cooperate with you without CONTROLLING them.  Controlling is not right, no matter what the circumstances.  

Read Dr. Thomas Gordon's book Parent Effectiveness Training, or take the Family Effectiveness Training Workshop.  It is startling to learn how people willingly change their behavior when the LANGUAGE OF ACCEPTANCE is used to communicate with them.  

No wonder we have children on antidepressants and with hyperactivity and what we like to call "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." They are tired of being treated with disrespect and their lives being run in every detail, and this creates anger, hopelessness, low self-esteem, you name it. What is the cause of adult depression? For the most part, it's living a life where you feel you have no choices. At some point in your life, you have wanted to change your life but felt you didn't have the power, or that society or your family wouldn't allow it, or your circumstances seemed so terrible that you couldn't change them. And so, feeling no way out, you succumb to a feeling of hopelessness that results in the altering of your brain chemistry. 

Let's not do this to our children. There are very healthy, logical, loving ways to encourage your children to cooperate with you, and they work!

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     Judie McMath
     Center for Unhindered Living

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