Find your inner cat

13 August 2018

Find your inner cat

  • Positive Parenting
by Michael Grose

Ever notice how kids will happily respond to one parent, while their partner can use the same words but always be ignored?

There’s no mystery to this. It’s the way we say something as well as the words we choose that influences their behaviour.

Non-verbal cues (body language, tone of voice, gestures) are often what trips up parents when getting kids to cooperate with them.

In fact, you’re probably managing kids like a dog rather than like a cat. Let’s explain.

Yep, it’s not just what you say, but the way that you say it that really impacts your kids.

If you have a dog, you’ll know it’s usually friendly and all it wants is love and attention. To a dog you are family. When you feed it, it’s usually grateful. If it could speak it would say, “Thank you for feeding me. You’re fantastic!” Dogs and dependency go hand in hand.

Cats are different

However if you own a cat, then you’ll know cats are different. They are self-contained and can live happily without you. To a cat you are just staff. If your cat could talk when you fed it would probably say, “It’s about time. I’ve been waiting.” Cats and redundancy go hand in hand.

We all have some cat and dog in us. It’s just a matter of accessing those parts and bringing them out when we need them. The cat is the credible side we all have but find difficult to access. It’s always expressed through your non-verbal cues – that is, your tone of voice, your posture and your head.

Manage like a cat

A cat speaks with a flat, clipped voice. Their head is very still and the body upright and confident. The quickest way to access your inner cat is to speak with your palms facing the ground.

Try this right now. Stand up with both hands in front of you with your palms facing the ground.

Now start speaking. You’ll find you’ll naturally speak like a cat –in a clipped voice, with a still head and body, and more serious expression. This is your credible (and calm) side.

When you manage like a cat, you speak calmly and quietly, staying still when you speak. Cats will also withdraw eye contact rather than stand and argue.

Cats also look for ways to manage visually (rosters, looking away to indicate not arguing) or kinaesthetically (a touch on the shoulder, moving close and whispering) rather than repeat themselves. If they do repeat themselves they are more likely to lower their voice than raise it to get attention. These cat behaviours work well when managing children of all ages, but especially well with teenagers because most adolescents are cats themselves.

Kids need parents who are cats some of the time. Cats who are comfortable with management provide a sense of safety to a family. Kids may not always agree with a cat, but they will feel safe and comfortable knowing someone is making sure there are limits and boundaries, and that their rights and well-being are being protected. Fairness and fair play is part of young children’s DNA and they need to know someone is looking out for them.

Next time you invite cooperation from your kids make sure you access your inner cat. That way, your non-verbal cues will convey that you expect them to comply. Far better than managing like a dog, where your non-verbal cues suggest that you don’t expect cooperation.

Yep, it’s not just what you say, but the way that you say it that really impacts your kids.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s the author of 10 books for parents including Thriving! and the best-selling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It, and his latest release Spoonfed Generation: How to raise independent children.