Guiding Your Creative Child’s Behaviour
Previous articles in our series on parenting creative children have centred on what’s behind the seemingly defiant behaviour, and the importance of answering ‘Why’. These articles were focused on Understanding Behaviour. We now turn our focus to Guiding Behaviour.
The trick to parenting a Creative Child is to apply boundaries without quenching their fire. It’s a very delicate and important balance because most Creative Thinkers also happen to be sensitive to others’ opinions of them. In addition, as discussed in previous articles, the creative brain processes and understands information in a different way. Therefore, it is important that our efforts to help our kids focus on the task at hand, don’t send the message that their way of thinking is undesirable or bad.
Be Selective In Your Battles
It’s important to be selective in your battles, to pick and choose which behaviours to focus on and which to let go of.
When it comes to children being oppositional and defiant, having too many restrictions and rules can be worse than not having many rules at all. Balance is the key. When we can let some behaviours go and allow our kids to have some choice and control over their lives in an age-appropriate way, they will be more likely to respond positively when our instruction is non negotiable.
It helps to check your intent. In other words, ask yourself Why is it so important for my child to change this behaviour? Worrying about what others may think of you or your child is not a good enough reason. Ask yourself What would happen if I let this behaviour go? What would my child learn/fail to learn? What is the benefit for them in complying with what I’m asking them to do?
In other words, Does it really matter?
I mean REALLY matter. For example, what’s the worst that will happen if your child refuses to make their bed, is late for school, or doesn’t eat dinner? They might have to sleep in a lumpy bed, earn themselves extra homework from the teacher, go to bed hungry…
It’s not going to be easy. Your child will endure some discomfort, but nothing comes close to the pain we parents must endure with the complaining from our kids.
The thing is, many lessons in life are borne from a little discomfort (or much discomfort if you’re the parent). However, each lesson brings with it Growth, Resilience, and Responsibility, and in the long run life is much easier when our kids are resilient and start to take responsibility for their actions.
Positive Ways To Say No To A Child
As much as it is possible, try not to say No. Remember, Creative Thinkers are purpose driven. If they hear No first up, they’re not likely to hear anything else. This child immediately feels threatened, and you’re the threat, because you and your No are the only things standing in the way of their perfect happiness. And once we feel threatened, all reasoning goes out the window.
It’s far better to respond with a positive attitude. For example, Yes, you can go to the park, when you’ve finished tidying your room, is more likely to elicit a positive response than No, you can’t go to the park until you’ve finished tidying your room. By starting with a Yes, you’ve put the ball right back in your child’s court. They now control whether they can go to the park, they are responsible for the outcome.
That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. The child who wants it right now is likely to feel frustrated and respond with a meltdown. In our next article we’ll be discussing the meltdown. The 123 Magic and Emotion Coaching program also has some good tips.
Of course, there are times when No is important, but No loses its effect the more your child hears it. When you choose positive ways to say No to a child, you are not only giving them more choice and control, your child is more likely to comply with the No when it’s important.
Giving instructions is an important foundation to guiding children’s behaviour, particularly the Creative Thinker. We excel at telling our kids what not to do, with little instruction on what to do instead, making the instructions sound like our kids have a choice when they don’t, and my personal favourite, shouting instructions across the house.
None of these are helpful.
For starters, if your child doesn’t have a choice, don’t give them one. For example, Would you like to take your bath? implies that there is a choice, so don’t be surprised if your child says No. They’re not being defiant. They’re simply responding to your question.
Having said that, it does help to give your child some control. So your question could be Would you like to take your bath now or after story time? That gives your child choice within a set boundary.
Of course, there are some things where there is no choice but to comply. For example, sitting at the table for the evening meal. Yes your Creative Child loves to explore, but there is a time and a place to explore, and there are good reasons for sitting down to a meal as a family.
Again, how you direct the instruction is important. If we want to teach our children to respond to us with respect, then we need to model that in how we speak with them. So even in this case, the child still has some choice. This is family time. You don’t have to eat if you’re not hungry, but there won’t be anything else until breakfast tomorrow.
How we give instruction is equally important. Face to face is much better than shouting across the house, especially when it’s followed by the opportunity for the child to clarify the instruction.
Clarifying the instruction is about checking that your child understands what’s required of them. If you simply ask Do you understand? don’t be surprised if your child says Yes then does the opposite of what they were asked to do. Try asking Tell me in your own words what I asked you to do. Their answer may surprise you.
Clarity is everything. Your child’s understanding of getting ready for bed may be completely different to yours. Your expectation may be that your child has had a shower/bath, is in their pyjamas, had a drink, cleaned their teeth, gone to the toilet, and packed their toys away. Your child’s definition of getting ready for bed may simply be mentally preparing themselves to shut down from activities so they can get to sleep.
Setting Realistic Expectations For Your Child
It’s worth bearing in mind that many of our supposedly simple instructions carry a list of expectations behind them. The bedtime example is a good one. There are too many steps to remember, especially for the easily distractible brain that is always on the lookout for new and shiny things to focus its attention upon. It’s much more effective to break our instructions down into smaller, more manageable steps, and limit the number of steps in an instruction to two.
It’s important to be setting realistic expectations for your child. Too often our instructions focus on telling our children what not to do, rather than what to do instead.
A classic example is the child who hurts others. Most often, children physically lash out when they feel threatened, frustrated, or scared. If our children don’t know what to do with these feelings, no amount of instructions to stop hurting others is going to be effective.
The final instalment for this series will be focusing on how to help our children manage these big feelings.
For more great tips on the difference between requests and instructions and being clear about what you are asking your child to do, Click here.