How to Help Kids Do Things They Don’t Want to Do

How to Help Kids Do Things They Don’t Want to Do

As parents and/or adults working with children, we all definitely have moments when we expect children to do things they don’t want to do.

We might want them to do a chore, to stop using electronics, get in the shower, do their homework, or something else they would prefer to avoid. While some kids may quietly pout but do what we expect anyway, others may resist more vocally and exhibit inappropriate behavior.

Kids who chronically resist what they are told to do can cause lots of frustration for adults, and we can accidentally make things worse depending on how we handle the situation. Here are 10 specific strategies that increase the likelihood that children will do what we expect, without battles or power struggles.

  1. Stay calm – When trying to help children do things they want to avoid, the first and most important goal you need to have is to stay calm. This means you avoid yelling, sarcastic remarks, name-calling, etc. Keep your voice quiet, calm, and firm. Your goal is to model for your child how you want them to behave in these situations. Regardless of how distressed or worked up the child is, you will stay calm, quiet, and even-keeled.
  2. Get close – It is best to get closer to your child before you make the request. Make sure you can at least see them, but get even closer for younger or more resistive children. For young children get down on their eye level, and establish physical closeness first by taking their hand in yours.
  3. Express genuine empathy and acceptance of their feelings – Let your child know that you see they are feeling upset, frustrated, angry, or whatever emotion they are expressing. Reassure them that they are allowed to have whatever feelings they have, and that they don’t need to like or feel happy about what you are expecting them to do. Tell them that you understand how they feel, and be genuine about it. We all have to do things we don’t want to do, so we can relate!
  4. State don’t ask – It is very important to tell your child what s/he needs to do instead of ask them to do it. There is a big difference between saying, “It’s time to put your clothes away.” and “Can you put your clothes away?” Most of the time we don’t actually mean to ask them – we are telling them what we expect them to do. Be clear about this and state it rather than ask.
  5. Be clear about the expectation – Clearly state what your child needs to do in the shortest and simplest way possible. This is not a time for long drawn out requests or explanations! Some kids do better when we write down what they need to do so they can refer back to it as needed.
  6. Be clear about the consequence – It is also important to clearly state what the consequence will be if your child does not meet your expectation. We can increase the likelihood that kids chose to meet our expectation by using natural consequences. For example, as soon as they are done showering and getting ready for bed they can have a snack and book. The natural consequence of not meeting the expectation of showering and getting ready for bed is that they will not earn the snack and book they enjoy. Use consequences that make sense and clearly state them so your child knows what to expect.
  7. Avoid power struggles – Keep in mind that you can only control yourself, you cannot control your child. Lay out the options for what needs to happen and what will happen if your child makes a different choice. Then the ball is in their court and they have to choose what they are going to do. The important thing is to be clear about what you will do, because that is the part you can control. If they do not meet your expectation then simply follow through with the consequence.
  8. Consistently follow-through – Kids need to know that as adults we will always do what we say we will do. Nothing is more anxiety provoking for a child, and damages our relationship with them more, than when we are inconsistent and unreliable. Set the tone with your child that what you tell you them is the truth and that they can count on it. If you state a consequence then follow through with it if your child chooses not to do what you expect them to do.
  9. Don’t get sucked into negative emotions – Try not to allow your child’s words, emotions, or behaviors to make you feel badly about yourself or the relationship you have with them. Kids (and adults) can say hurtful things in the heat of the moment when they are upset. Keep your focus on what you told them to do, and try to ignore the inappropriate or negative things they say or do in an attempt to avoid the situation.
  10. Stay in the present – Avoid bringing up past behaviors or issues, as this will only cause more problems and allow emotions to escalate. Keep your words and actions focused on the present situation, and see it through.

When kids try to avoid or refuse to do the things we expect them to do it causes increased stress for everyone involved. I can promise you that implementing these tips will help reduce the battles and strengthen your relationship with your child. The goal isn’t to get to the point where kids do everything they are told right away without complaining – they are human beings after all! But, we can control our own emotions and behaviors and handle these situations in ways that get things accomplished with more ease and less drama for everyone.

Have you used any or all of the strategies above? How did they work for you? Share your experiences or questions in the comments below!

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