Ways to strengthen your relationship with a defiant child
(approximately Age 7-13)
Living with a defiant child can be exhausting and discouraging. The first and last step are the same: Strengthen your relationship.
This is the most important part of changing your family dynamic. The relationship is the foundation of everything else. If you have a solid relationship, it will give amazing benefits that no amount of consequencing will achieve.
Here are some approaches that can be beneficial.
1. Together Time. Set aside individual time with your child every day (or at least every week day). Eliminate distractions and interruptions and do something that your child has previously listed and gotten approved by you. Together Time should be about 20-30 minutes. It should not cost a lot of money and should provide some good bonding and conversation time. Do not discuss your child’s task list or interrogate them in any way. Keep this a very positive, happy, connecting time. Together Time should not be used as a consequence. Together Time is an unconditional gift to you both because you want a better relationship.
2. Collaborate More. Instead of dispensing edicts as an authority, start collaborating with your child so they can learn to take responsibility. While you don’t want to put your child in the position of making decisions for the family, you DO want to involve her in the discussion and truly understand her concerns, insights and suggestions. You can collaborate one-on-one or start a tradition of having a weekly family meeting where you discuss ways to make your family better. Make sure you child feels safe and deeply understood. Where you can, incorporate his suggestions in the family plan. Areas to collaborate on: family activities, schedules, boundaries/rules, consequences. Again, this doesn’t mean your child makes the decisions. It means that your child is heard, understood and validated as worthwhile.
3. Use Strength-based motivation. Learn to ignore a lot of “small faults” and focus on what your child is doing “right.” Don’t make a huge fuss, but you can definitely point out areas that they are being mature, responsible and obedience. Express your confidence that this pattern can spread to other areas of his life.
4. Stay Neutral. Do your best to tone down the big anger and big praise for your child. The very act of being judged by a parent, puts a child in a very vulnerable and anxiety provoking place. Learn to deal with your anger rather than losing control as a result of your child’s actions. Tone down the praise, too. Stay more matter of fact and calm and positive. Your child will feel much more secure knowing that they aren’t responsible for their parent coming unglued.
5. Listen to understand. Learn to deeply listen to your child. Don’t let your mind wander and certainly don’t think of ways he/she is wrong! Don’t interrupt, but when the conversations pauses, check back to make sure you understand what is in her heart. Say, “Let me see if I get what you said. . . . “ or something like that. Then do your best to express back what your child just told you. The gift of listening without judgment (or even better as an ally!) is a great way to strengthen your relationships.
6. Develop a detailed Love Map. How well do you know your child’s world? Probably not as well as you think. The more details you know about your child’s world, the more they know you care and are interested in them as a person. Start to ask questions and then REMEMBER the answers! If you have to keep asking the name of their friends, they know you don’t care enough to attend well. Ideally, your love map will be so detailed that you really know what is going on for your child. Instead of asking the perfunctory, “How was your day, Champ?” you can ask, “So what did Jennifer do today when Bobby sent her that note yesterday?”
7. Be their ally, not their enemy. As much as possible, be on their side as an ally and advocate rather than acting as an enemy. Let them hear you bragging about them to others. Make sure you empathize with their dilemmas and take their side (especially at first). Later, you can help them understand different points of view, but you need to form the alliance before they will feel safe enough to open up to you. Even when you need to enforce consequences, you can say, “Man, that is really tough, I know. I would really hate that too, and I’m feeling for you.” Don’t be sarcastic about this.
8. Find hobbies/interests you can do together. Don’t just watch their basketball games, get out and shoot hoops together. Don’t just watch a movie with popcorn, but involve them in making the snack and choosing the movie. This will take some thought and effort, but really, they would love to have a parent involved with them at this age.
9. Make everything as “relational” as possible. Learn to talk and joke whenever you are doing even mudane things like doing chores or driving in the car. Instead of telling your child to do something on her own, find a way to participate together. Help her with chores, and even help her in negotiating consequences. Take time to talk and visit, not just accomplish the task.
10. Turn tasks into games. Children this age love games and it makes life interesting instead of drudgery. Let them come up with ways to make tasks more fun.
11. Use humor!! Laughing together is a great way to bond. Caution: Teasing is often perceived as a violation of a child’s dignity. Eliminate teasing that leaves the child feeling helpless or confused. Remember, if you aren’t laughing together, you are doing it wrong.
12. Be an example of talking about your feelings. Children need to hear their parents express feelings aloud. It’s okay for them to hear you say, “I’m really frustrated with the car right now! I need to get it in to the mechanic.” If you can follow up your expression of feelings with a possible solution, it helps your child learn to find solutions for their feelings instead of denying them or bottling them up.
This is not the complete list of things to do so your child will function better, but it is a fundamental foundation to build the most important factor. Later you will learn important aspects of shaping your child’s behavior through a number of modalities. Have fun with this list and let me know what works the best.