Being with young children is exhilarating, illuminating and filled with joy. It is also tiring and repetitive with some stages of what feels like an endless stream of resistance and rock hard stubbornness towards our requests of them.
Any resistance from our child is a good moment for our introspection, for us to check that their environment is suited to their needs, that our schedule is suited to their needs and that our requests of them are appropriate and grounded in their wellbeing rather than our ego.
However, in spite of how enriching our environment is, how zen we are on a day to day basis, and how perfect we are at parenting 😉, our children will challenge us. They will resist us, resist our requests, our reminders and suggestions. Pushing our boundaries is what they need to do in order to feel safe. It is for us to know that this is normal behaviour, and in the same breath, reframe our response to what is a normal and healthy parent/child dynamic.
We really need to speak their language, engage with our child in a way that is meaningful to them, meeting them where they are during the challenging moments.
We do not want to turn our homes into a battleground, where every request from us to them turns into a battle of wills.
Absolute obedience is only appropriate in matters of safety, so in other situations we need to be a little more creative, and meet the child where they are.
Remember that these little people do not know how to ‘be’ in this world, they are learning as they go. They need us to give clear confident instructions, with a healthy dose of humour added in for those sticky situations.
Playfulness in action
Picture the scene: it’s time to leave the supper table and go through to the bathroom for a bath or go upstairs to bed.
You feel as if you have done all of the “correct” steps, given plenty of notice, kept the usual routine, been firm but kept your voice friendly and without confrontation etc. However your energetic Piccolini is still zipping round and round the room in circles. She is undoubtedly tired and strongly resists your attempts to speak to her or pick her up .
As a logical, but probably tired and verging on annoyed parent, you are thinking, “Why isn’t she obeying me?” or “What have I done wrong?”
When a child is resisting something that is non-negotiable, but not a life or death situation, logic or reasoning will not work. Anger or shouting or bribery may work in the short-term but will make you feel awful and cause your child to mistrust you.
You could overrule her (and there may be times when this approach is appropriate) however, being mindful that you want to collaborate with your child rather than control her, you will need to draw on your ingenuity in order to facilitate this.
Your best friend in these situations is your sense of humour and playfulness.
Try a silly Monty Python walk for walking up the stairs, encourage your child to follow you; wide eyed, they will be baffled by your behaviour and will want to see more.
Or put on the voice of a character from their favourite book, or take their beloved teddy and get your child to follow teddy to the bathroom.
Watch their eyes widen in disbelief as you start singing what you would like them to do, instead of saying it. Use theatrical gestures and over the top voices. Engage with them at their level and see the battle of wills melt away.
Humour and playfulness really are one of the most valuable tools in your parenting toolkit!
After a few experiments, you will see which approach works best in these situations, and you will need to adapt your approach as your children develop. At its core though, this approach works well, as a child’s natural curiosity and love of play will overcome their resistance to most things.
Calling on our sense of fun and playfulness
The hard thing for us as parents is to practise this approach when we really don’t want to – when we are exhausted from a long day at home with them, or a long day at work. We actually just want them to obey us, to get into the bath then bed with no arguments, no tears and no drama.
We might not be able to prevent tears, but we can prevent the drama. We can choose to approach these situations with lightness and humour, regardless of how we are feeling.
This type of playfulness truly calls on our greatest reserves of courage and energy.
And we won’t be able to manage to do this every time. But equally, the times that we do manage it, we will see how extraordinarily simple it is, and how easy it is too. The best part is that it works – it really does work!
Five steps to playfulness:
1) Playfulness is your best friend when collaborating with your child through sticky patches.
2) If you have made a request and it has been ignored twice, then it is time for a different approach. Monty Python, here we come!
3) Be ready to adapt your style and the approach for different situations; a song may work well one day, a silly dance or walk the next.
4) Try a fun or silly poem that chases them through to the bathroom or bedroom at bedtime.
5) You may have to dig deep to find the energy for fun and playfulness at the end of a day, but the rewards will be more than worth it.
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