You rush into the living room and call upstairs expectantly.
“Jacob, your first Tae Kwon Do class is tonight. Get downstairs.”
“Honey, I’m not going to ask you again. We don’t have time for this tonight. You need to get downstairs and eat before we go.”
Ugh. Here comes yet another power struggle. It’s been this way since this child was in your womb. You try to sleep, he kicks. Always wanting to do the opposite of what you have planned.
You’re frustrated because you’re trying to do this FOR him. You don’t need to spend the extra money and time to do this dumb class. But you thought it would be a good outlet for him and a way to make some friends.
You are anxious. Because you paid $135 for this class and you hate wasting money. And now you’re going to be late again. And you hate being late. It’s a trigger for you. And now he’s doing his little delaying tactic.
So here’s the moment of decision. You know how your child is going to react. He’s going to resist, yell and call you names. His face is going to turn purple as he screams, “I’m not going! Tae Kwon Do is stupid! You’re stupid!” He’s going to sob crocodile tears. He’s going to talk his way out of it, complain that his stomach is upset, that he doesn’t feel well. He’s going to plead with you to just let him stay home this week, but next week he’ll go. “Please, Mom.”
You know that. Because you’ve heard it and seen this a hundred times. So you know what’s about to happen.
The real question now is this: what are YOU going to do differently this time? Because that’s the only real variable here. You are NOT going to get him to change his behavior. The only thing you have control over at this critical moment is your own behavior. Are you going to react or respond? Are you going to inflame the situation or diffuse it?
Because we’re so anxious and rushed and take these challenges to our authority so personally, here’s your default mode. You end up doing and saying the following:
“You better get your little butt in the car or you’re going to lose all your privileges. Do you understand me?”
“I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Do what I say or else.”
“There’s no need to be upset or scared. It’s just a simple 45-minute class.”
“Your brother never had any trouble doing this class.”
“Why do you always have to be so difficult?”
“How are you ever going to be successful in life if you can’t follow simple directions?”
“You just wait until your father gets home!”
“You are NOT going to talk to me like that, young man.”
“If you do not get in the car right now, you are going to lose your video games for one month. Do you hear me?”
Yes, but you’re not hearing him! You are making this situation all about you. About your authority and what you want. But you’re not listening to him. Because you’re too focused on changing or controlling his behavior—instead of your own.
But if you could control yourself, this is how you’d see the situation and what you would “hear.”
He doesn’t have the maturity yet to say, “Mother, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed by all the unknowns of this new experience. I’ve always had a hard time connecting with kids my own age—I get along better with adults and younger kids or animals, so I’m afraid the other kids are going to pick on me. I have great difficulty with multi-step processes and auditory processing, so I’m scared that I will fail at Tae Kwon Do. And the truth is that I’m afraid that I’ll disappoint you, Dad and my instructor.
“At this moment in my life, I am too fragile emotionally to risk more failure. So I’m going to call you names, challenge your authority, and be so disrespectful right to your face that your only option is to punish me. Because the truth is that I’d rather be spanked, caged in my room, and lose everything that I enjoy in life than face the risk of failure and rejection.
“I wish I knew how to tell you that, but my fear overwhelms me just like your anxiety about me is overwhelming you right now. So I react out of fear. What I need right now is for the adult in the home to show me a different way out of this. But you never do that. Instead, you react just like I do.”
And here’s what you and I miss. You’re not looking at a defiant child. You’re looking at a scared kid who’s never fit in with his peers, who feels genuine dread when trying new things because it’s out of his own control. You’re looking at a kid who’s rarely been praised by people. He’s always in trouble. He’s the bad kid. He doesn't do homework quickly or get good grades like his brother or sister.
And now you just berated him and demeaned him. You just further reinforced that he’s a difficult child who brings trouble on himself. And you’re a good parent so I know you don’t want to continue doing that.
THE CALM WAY.
So let’s rewind this situation and focus on controlling yourself instead, and see how that turns
You know you’re going to get pushback because you always do. So you call upstairs, “Jacob, your first Tae Kwon Do class is tonight. Get downstairs.”
Instead of getting upset or irritated, you mutter a quick prayer and take a couple deep breaths.
You see a few Legos littering the floor. Obviously not picked up like you asked. You cringe. That part of you that needs things to be orderly and to have instructions followed explicitly because that's how you were raised winces inside. But you don’t give in to it, though you want to add that to your lecture. Instead, you grab a few Legos and walk upstairs.
You knock on Jacob’s door, walk in, and then sit on the floor. Yeah, right on the floor. You start putting pieces of Legos together (building instead of destroying).
Jacob looks at you like you’re crazy. He’s been waiting for you to stand with your hands on your hips, delivering lecture #43B, looking disapprovingly, shaking your head, and threatening consequences. Instead, you’re sitting on the floor looking down at the Legos.
“You know, Jacob, if I were you, I’d be anxious about going to a new class, too. It can be pretty scary doing new things.”
And now you’ve done what you wish your husband would do just once—acknowledge that what you are feeling is natural and normal and legitimate. Instead of dismissing you or saying you are overreacting.
Jacob looks at you puzzled. You’ve just gotten to the root of the issue and addressed his fears. You’ve just assumed the best about him. That he doesn’t want to be some defiant little snot who makes your life difficult.
Jacob slowly climbs down from his bed and sits on the floor. He begins fumbling with some Legos. There’s no eye contact.
“Know how I know that, Jacob? Because in truth, I’m the same way. I get anxious when I’m meeting new people at Book Club or giving a presentation at work. It makes my stomach upset. Is that what it feels like?”
“Uh huh,” comes the muted response along with a nodding head.
You trade pieces of Legos and begin building something together without saying a word. Now you’re together, sitting, connecting, building.
“Know what helps me? I’m just like you. I like helping other people so whenever I go to one of those book club meetings, I always ask the host if I can fix some dish or do a job. At work, I get to my meeting early and set up. It helps me.
“So I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we leave right now and get to the Tae Kwon Do class a few minutes
early? I bet the instructor will give you a job to do because your teachers tell me all the time that you’re the best helper in the class.”
And 93.7% of the time, your son will get up and follow you to the car. Because you lead him to a place of safety with your own humility.
You just changed that entire situation. You just changed your child’s response. And you didn’t make him do one thing. You simply controlled yourself.
And that’s how you can change your child overnight.