I recently had a phone coaching session with “Janice” whose child routinely refused to do whatever he was asked by his mom or dad. In school, “Jesse” was cooperative most of the time, but at home, he couldn’t have been more resistant and challenging.

“Jesse, time to turn off the TV and start your homework,” would typically be met with no response at all.

“Jesse, I said turn off the TV!” would be followed with, “Jesse, I need you to turn off the TV right now and start your homework!” If he responded at all, it would be to say, “I’ll turn it off as soon as this show is over!”

His exasperated mother would up the ante by saying, “If you don’t turn that TV off right now, you’re losing TV and video games for the rest of the week!” If Janice was particularly upset, Jesse would be threatened with losing everything he liked for the month, or the year—and sometimes added threats would be tossed in, as she desperately attempted to get her son to do what she was asking.

Sound familiar?

When you, as a parent, begin issuing threats, it’s your signal that your child—rather than you—is running the show. Using my Captain of the Ship analogy, it’s a bit like the passenger taking the helm.

The first step in avoiding this situation is to understand that a child’s resistance to direction escalates in proportion to how hard you’re pushing against them. There’s something in our brains that tends to push against whatever is pushing at them, and when you push harder, so do they.

Instead, when you parent as the Captain of the Ship, you orchestrate scenarios so that instead of having to use force to get your child to do what you ask, you create the greatest possibility that they’ll naturally want to go along with you. This starts by coming alongside them, rather than at them.

How do you do that? There are many elements that contribute, but here’s one piece: Request into the Yes. Just as a salesman might say, “Gee, Mrs. Jones, with those seven children of yours, I wonder if you might sometimes wish you had a bigger car?” Mrs. Jones says, “Well, yes…” “And Mrs. Jones,” says the salesman, “Do you ever feel your children might be safer in something that wasn’t so cramped?” Mrs. Jones has to say,”Yes, I do.” Finally the salesman says, “Well, may I show you our roomy new Z760 van?” and poor Mrs. Jones is primed to agree to take a look.

One of the many techniques I offer parents is how to manage their own reactions and upset when kids push their buttons. But another—which I’ll share with you here—is to attempt to get the child to say, “Yes” three times before asking them to do something.

“It looks like you’re really enjoying this show, Jesse.” “Yes.” “Is this one of your favorites?” “Yep--it sure is!” “It pulls you right in, with all that action, doesn't it…” “Yea, it does.” "I'm glad I got to see a little bit with you, honey. Let's go see what kind of homework you've got, and then we'll have a yummy dinner..."

By giving a child the sense that you’re with him, rather than against him, you have a better chance of helping him feel you're both on the same side, awakening his instinct to go along with your request far more than if he feels you''re pushing against him.

I got a follow up email from Janice telling me how much she benefited from our telephone session, and she said she mentioned how this was one of the strategies I talked about that had made a real difference with her son.

I hope you'll join us for a parenting workshop or teleclass--or your own private coaching session by phone or in person--if you find yourself in need of a little extra help along the parenting road.

Meanwhile--Happy parenting!

Author's Bio: 

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed marriage and family therapist, educational consultant and parenting coach. Through her private practice, public presentations, workshops, teleclasses and website, she has become a source of advice and support for around the world. Her book, From Chaotic to Calm: Raising Kids Without Power Struggles, Negotiations, or Meltdowns, will be released soon. Susan can be reached at passionateparenting.net, at her Facebook group, or via email at osusannaji@gmail.com