At some point, all kids will resist something. Whether the child is seven or seventeen, they may refuse to finish their math assignment, shovel the walk or wear the dress Aunt Nancy gave them for their birthday.
As a parent, this opposition may not only be perplexing, but also frustrating.
When Your Child Resists, Remember They May Be Thinking “I Can’t”
All of us have strengths and weaknesses. If a child says, “I can’t do it!” or “This is too hard / confusing / time consuming / boring…etc.,” we may ask ourselves if their reasoning is genuine or an excuse?
From a developmental perspective, expect resistance to be in full force in both preschool and teenage years. These periods are when children separate from parents so the views of others are naturally resisted to make space for their own views.
How to Raise “Can Do” Kids
Let them know you hear them
Kids may not want to initially broach the real reason for their resistance, but ask open questions and listen for the answers. Let them lead the conversation. Yes, you may already know about their struggles, but if you sit, look them in the eye and let them express their feeling and how the challenges are affecting their lives, you will open the door to partnering for solutions.
When kids tell you they can’t do something, they’re opening up. Let them recognize that you can feel their pain by saying, “I know this is must be hard for you.” Even if you think their perspective is incorrect, don’t say, “You can do it!” If your child is opening up, let them know that you are listening and truly care about their feelings.
Engage in a friendly way
At a time when a child is receptive to instruction, convey what you would like them to address. This helps you lessen conflict and build on the relationship while helping both of you save face.
Share others’ struggles
When you share that you struggle with time management or that Aunt Sue dislikes math too, you break the ice and allow the conversation to move forward.
Add the word “yet”
This simple word can do wonders in allowing you to talk about future expectations. “You can’t do this yet,” implies that it can happen… with work. It also lets your kid know that it is OK to struggle sometimes and it introduces the concept of a growth mindset — the belief that abilities can improve over time.
Expectations are important, but they should be backed up by support. For example, demonstrate how they can reach out to a teacher for extra help before a test. Show them how to break large projects into smaller, time sensitive chunks.
Many kids, especially those with learning differences, often focus on what they are doing wrong. They probably have had to work harder and longer than their peers, which can certainly become discouraging over time. Help your child recognize the things they are good at, such as being kind or funny, helping friends, or running fast. We may impulsively want to jump in and urge them to work on what needs improving, however, I recommend that when your child is feeling particularly down, be gentle with them. Hold them tight and let them know they are valued, important and have a lot to offer.
As a parent, you probably know the activities that will engender resistance. Simply acknowledge it and proceed forward. Acknowledge that no one likes to be bossed around and then reaffirm what needs to happen, for example – “I know you don’t like me telling you it is time to start your homework, but it still needs to be done.” Ask your child what words work better for them when you are having this type of discussion. They may prefer words that connote less urgency or instruction.
Cultivate routines and structure
Daily structure helps a child feel less coerced and controlled once they attach to the routine. Just as a preschool teacher can get a class to clean up their toys by singing simple songs, a routine can collect their attention and direct them accordingly. Routines are helpful around transition times such as going to school, doing homework, and getting ready for bed.
Put them in charge
By putting a child in charge of things that are developmentally appropriate, you work towards avoiding battles and help them build a resilient, ‘Can Do’ mindset. Let them choose between two acceptable choices, such as what to wear that day, what homework to attack first and what to eat for snack.
If things become heated, wait for tempers to cool and then offer an apology to help convey the relationship is important and intact and that you will continue to care for them.
Our Agendas Are Not the Same
Kids will have different agendas from their parents and this is to be expected. What is important is how we preserve the child’s dignity as well as ours in the face of disagreement. The more we push, the more they will resist. The more they resist, the more we will want to push.
It helps to not take things personally. The instinct to resist and oppose is in all of us and has important work to do in making sure we aren’t prioritizing less important things over necessary ones. Resistance also paves the way for a child to grow as a separate person.
We All Need Socialization!
Even if spending time with people drains you and you don’t feel like putting in the effort to attend an event, it’s important to find social skills activities that help recharge your energy and make you feel connected.