Do you struggle with being a firm parent?

Manage your kids like a cat

Many parents feel uncomfortable with the firmer side of parenting. Invariably they use management techniques that increase their children’s dependence on them, including:

Doing deals with kids

“Jai, if you eat all your dinner, I’ll let you use my iPad for minutes.”

If this is you, then you’ll need deep pockets, as kids will keep upping the ante all the time.

Repeating yourself and raising the volume

Kids are parent deaf by choice and habit. Going over the same old, same old and getting mad just reinforces their parent deafness.

Using coercion

The use of controlling language –“Do this now!” – doesn’t work with kids who like to be in control. They’ll fight you rather then cooperate.

If you struggle to get your kids to do as you say, it’s probably your non-verbals giving you away. That is, it’s less about what you say, but more about how you say it that makes a big difference. If you’re not getting cooperation your probably managing like a dog, when you should be managing like a cat.

Manage like a cat

Here are six ways to manage like a cat that will get you more cooperation, but importantly make your kids less dependent on you

1. Manage yourself first

Cats are self-contained and very controlled. So, when you bring some cat into your parenting the first thing you need to do is to learn to manage your own reactions rather than over-react, repeat yourself and just plain yell. Start by stepping away from the stressful situation and taking some deep breaths to change your emotional state.

2. Go low

Rather than raise your voice to be heard, lower your voice. Raising our voice has the effect of making kids ignore us or argue with us. Kids will hear our vehemence but not the detail of our words. By lowering your voice children are more likely to hear you and take notice.

3. Go near

Recently I saw a father shout out for some help but his two kids ignored his requests as they were watching TV. Rather than shout out his instructions again, he went into the TV room and quietly asks his kids for help. This time he makes a connection and they are far more receptive. Why was he successful? He moved into their proximal space (about an arm’s length away) and using a lower voice he got their cooperation.

4. Look away

Most people have been trained to make eye contact when they speak. My mother’s advice – “Look at people when you speak to them” – is still rattling around inside my brain. Non-verbal communications guru, Michael Grinder, advises parents and teachers to do the opposite; that is, look away from a child when they issue a command rather than look them in the eye. He argues that eye contact at the point of giving an instruction or laying out your expectation is an invitation to an argument. I agree. And it’s most valid when communicating with teenagers, who, due to the fact that their brain is being completely rewired, are likely to retreat to their reptilian brain when they feel under threat.

5. Let checklists, charts and rosters do the managing

Parents who develop independence in their kids manage predominantly in a visual way rather than rely on their language skills to influence, manage, cajole and persuade their children to behave better and be more responsible at home. In particular, most boys and all kids on the autism spectrum like the constancy and consistency when visual messages and reminders support and reinforce verbal communication. The use of checklists, charts and rosters are examples of managing visually.

6. Use consequences to teach responsibility

Those self-contained cats don’t spend a great deal of time talking to get their point across. Instead they use a consequence, which by definition is a reasonable, respectful and related (e.g. remove the meal when kids continually fight at the meal table) to reinforce their point and promote cooperative, responsible behaviour – which is necessary for independence.

Every family needs a cat because they provide safety; which is essential for children’s healthy development. Yet many parents feel uncomfortable with the firmer side of parenting. Cats make sure the family functions well and stays on track. So, if firmness is a challenge, I urge you to find your inner cat and put it to work at least some of the time. My guess is, your children will appreciate it.

Find out more ways to manage like a cat and nurture like a dog in my book Spoondfed Generation: How to raise independent children.