Parents: check attitude before you expect change in kid’s behavior

One child is easy and flexible while the other is strong-willed and disrespectful. Breaking the cycle of negative action and reaction to these behaviors is based on parents being open to their own attitude and childhood baggage.

Benjamin Brayfield/The World/AP
Breaking the cycle of action and reaction to children's negative behaviors is based on parents being open to changing their own attitude. Here, Rod Barnts diffuses a dispute between his foster daughter and his former foster son in Coos Bay, Ore. on May 16, 2012.

Ever wonder why you yell at your kids, take away privileges and put them in time out and nothing seems to change? It’s because you are spinning the endless cycle of action and reaction instead of stopping it. You are expecting your child to make the change and be the grown-up first.

A father I am working with has established a deep cycle of resistance with his eight year old daughter, who is a very strong-willed child and says things to her father like, “You don’t love me”, “You’re mean”, and “It’s unfair”. She has a little brother who is easy and flexible and gets his parents approval because of it.

Dad complains, “She says no to everything, even something she knows is coming up and she is supposed to do. For instance, I told her when we got home it was time to go up to bed – twice. Calmly. But when we walked in the door, she went directly over to the table and started to draw. That started it.”

When this dad, like so many parents, is faced with a child who doesn’t do what she is told, what is expected of her—even the simplest no-brainers—he feels disrespected and ignored and therefore reacts accordingly. The key is in changing his perception of his daughter from, “She’s doing this on purpose to disrespect me” to something like, “She’s being resistant to what I have asked which means she’s probably feeling unheard.” But to get to this type of understanding, he must first unload his baggage and defuse his buttons.

As a child, this dad was in a divorced, highly dysfunctional family where he felt like “nothing”. Feeling disrespected was not even in his vocabulary because respect wasn’t. He was nothing. His Appreciation Button reminds him of that every time his daughter resists him. His old, yet very alive, belief that he is worth nothing gets triggered when his daughter ignores any of his requests. Logically he then feels ignored, worthless, dismissed and disrespected. Which in turn provokes him to resistance, to control, to anger, thus unintentionally sending his daughter the message that she is bad, unappreciative, a disappointment, and not good enough—his baggage comes full circle.

His daughter naturally resists what she perceives her father thinks of her, and her integrity fights back—at anytime she thinks she can take control—especially around no-brainers. To stop the cycle, this dad needs to be willing to see that his daughter is not calling him a nothing like his mother did. She just doesn’t like being told what to do—something her brother has very little difficulty with (a huge thorn in her side). But Dad thinks it’s about him and reacts. His reaction causes his daughter to feel unloved and wrong and thus she resists him. It’s in his court to stop the cycle. He must first grapple with the old messages he has about himself from long ago and understand they had nothing to do with him and all to do with his parents. Just as his daughter’s initial resistance has nothing to do with him and all to do with her temperament. To empty our baggage, we have to let go of our perceptions.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.

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