Why Won’t My Child Do What I Say?

do what I say

Want to know the one thing that all parents have in common? Sometimes, every single parent asks, "why won't my child do what I say?"

Seriously, it's part of parenting. Because not listening is part of being a kid.

Relationships vs. Tasks

Here's the catch. Without meaning to, we parents have a tendency to reinforce our kids' tendency to not do what we say. Yup – we have some responsibility in this dance.

Sometimes, we focus so much on the "tasks" that we want our kids to do, that we forget about the importance of our relationships. It's like the need to "get it done" bullies out our desire to enjoy our relationships with our kids.

Think about it: we parents tend to get very task focused with our kids and teens. Take out the trash. Do your homework. Apologize to your sister. Follow my "fill in the blank" direction!

Occasionally, it's just going to happen. But when your kids won't do what you say on a regular basis, the best parenting advice I can offer, for parents of kids of any age, is to step out of the gotta-get-it-done trap. Choose something much more rewarding for everyone: prioritize relationships over tasks.

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Teach Decision-Making

Many of us start off with little ones using a directive style of parenting – and it works for a number of years. But as our children turn into kids, and then into teens, a collaborative style allows you to teach them to become independent decision-makers.

If you think about it, we want our kids to develop a sense of autonomy – a sense that they have some control over their destiny. Without that, they never learn to follow their inner compass.

Teens and adults who do not think for themselves are at risk of peer pressure, making poor decisions, and a lifetime of living according to everyone else's expectations.

So if …

  • your kids are starting to push back more than usual
  • you're beginning to feel like your relationships with your kids are not what you'd like them to be
  • you're feeling like a drill sergeant or nag, hearing yourself say things like, “if I don’t stay on him every minute he won’t get anything done”

… then there's only one thing to do: focus on the relationship over the tasks.

Focus on the Relationships

In the long term, your relationship is the key to having young adult children turn to you for advice and counsel. In the short term – well, yes, it might mean letting go of getting everything done.

So, what do you do instead? Find something that you can do together that is enjoyable. Don’t make ANY corrections or re-directions while you’re doing it. Just reconnect.

For younger kids, this means making sure to make time for playing games and socializing – don't let the tyranny of homework take over your day from 3 til bedtime.

For older kids, remember that it takes time to rebuild trust. If you invite your teen out for coffee or to play a game of tennis, she or he might not take you up on it at first. Don’t take it personally, just ask again soon.

Whatever the age of your child, let him or her know that you miss hanging out – that you would like to just do something that is not about getting anything done – which is what causes most problems in child-parent relationships.

Focus on reconnecting. From there, you can ask for participation that is based on a mutually trusting relationship, instead of sounding like you’re barking orders all the time.

So if you really want your child to do what you say, consider shifting your focus. Instead of trying to get 'everything' done, focus on Taking Aim: choose one issue at a time to work on. Choose something that you’d like to see your child or teen take on independently – preferably something they want to be able to do independently – and talk it out. Come to an agreement that allows them the space to become independent in that one arena, for starters. And try not to have every conversation become a list of what they're 'not' getting done!

And then… celebrate the successes, large and small – just like you would with anyone you love. Because that's the core of it all – you love this kid, and you want to enjoy that relationship for a long, long time.

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