My Kid Won’t Listen!

Posted by on Jul 18, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie,

My kid won’t listen.  She is 19 months.  She throws her food on the floor after eating and won’t stop no matter what I do.  She is starting to hit and won’t say sorry afterwards.  She is quite the stubborn cookie!  Having said that, she is a great, happy girl though.  Thanks Rowena.

Hi Rowena,

my child doesn't listenThat’s great to hear you have such a happy little girl  even though she won’t listen. You’ve asked a really great question because your little girl is between phases so to speak and a lot of parents have difficulty negotiating the changes between what’s needed for one phase and what’s needed for another.

As babies move in to toddlerhood they enter their first major change in life. They are driven to find out more about their world and to see where they fit in and just how much they can sway events around them.  However our society often mistakes this period as a drive for independence and if it’s misread,  it can cause significant problems.

Toddlers don’t want to run your family

In one way it is a drive for independence but only in a very limited sense.  Toddlers don’t want to run things, they simply want the joy that comes with accomplishing simple tasks by themselves and for you to notice their growing abilities.  Somewhere generally between 18 months and two and a half, most children are driven to explore the confines of their world.  A big world with not enough firm boundaries feels unsafe and a toddler in that kind of environment is unhappy.  A world where everything is done for them as it was when they were a baby, is too confining.  The job of a parent of a toddler is to find the right ground. Many parents have trouble navigating this change and need the help of offered by a professional behaviour intervention specialist to start them off on the right track.

So what does this mean in practice?

To help you understand, I’m going to tell you a story of how certain difficult behaviours develop.  I’m not saying you’re here yet because you’re not but that’s why it’s really important to understand you a entering a new phase where a different approach than the one that worked for her as a baby, is required.

When a child first tries a particular behaviour they usually do it randomly.  Let’s say you’re out at the park with a best friend and your daughter tries to hit you because she’s frustrated over something.  Perhaps she’s been on the receiving end of a hitting playmate or seen a little buddy do it.  You don’t want to look mean by grabbing her arm to prevent her and you certainly don’t want to make a scene, so she gets away with giving you a good smack.

As soon as she’s done it though you look upset, shocked to see your little one act like this and embarrassed in front of your friend. For her part, she sees your reaction to her hit and suddenly feels very odd.  It’s a weird feeling because the person she looks up to suddenly looks confused and out of sorts.  She doesn’t understand why you’re upset.  She only knows the feeling your upset creates in her and it bothers her.  She wants you to look normal, be normal and and show her where her boundaries lie full of confidence.  In that moment however, you don’t feel confident. You feel perplexed but soon you let those feelings pass and things go back to normal.

Then later she tries again, only this time you’ve invited Granny for dinner and hate the idea of confrontation so you try and smooth things over.  “She’s just having a bad day’ you think.  Days pass and weeks and the behaviour worsens.  Now she hits routinely.   Ok, you think.  It’s frustration.  If I just try and calm her down and explain why it hurts, she’ll stop.  So you try and rationally explain to her that hitting hurts.  You pull a face. “Ow, not nice,” you say but the behaviour doesn’t stop, it gets worse.  You start avoiding situations that are frustrating or bring the behaviour on, so you rush to acquiesce to her demands more quickly than you ever have before so she won’t get upset.  You sit her on your lap asking, “What’s wrong?”  Trouble is, she gets more demanding, not less.  She doesn’t know what’s wrong and herein lies the key.

Your child is trying to tell you something

You see, children show their discomfort through their behaviour.  If there’s a problem they’ll ring the doorbell that is you until you answer the call and deal with the problem, providing the leadership and boundaries they need.

In your case, your little girl is just entering this stage and none of the behaviours you’ve mentioned are entrenched but she is testing you, so you need to consider very carefully how to respond.

You want to be firm but loving.  Provide the boundaries in a fair and clear way and make sure you’re not a push over.  You also want to do so calmly without a whole lot of attention devoted to her naughtiness.

So what does that mean in practical terms?  Well, if she’s at her table and she throws her food, take it away for a few minutes.  Say something simple like “Oops food gone.”  She’ll probably get upset, so wait a few minutes and be involved in something else and then replace the food.  If she throws it again, remove it.  Give her two or three tries to co-operate and if she doesn’t, allow her to get down from her highchair and clean her up.  Then, let her get a little hungry.  Yes, you may have to put up with some whining but look cheery and not bothered.  Then at the next meal, try again.  I doubt if she’s hungry enough that you’ll have the problem.  By dealing with things this way, not only are you calm and loving but you send a clear message as to what is and what is not ok.

To get more of your parenting questions answered, please visit my parenting services page.

Hope that helps,

Good luck,

Annie

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