Insistence and resistance

When we can’t get kids to do something we want them to do, we often resort to repetitive insisting:  “It’s important to do your best.”  (Three days pass.)  “It doesn’t seem like you’re doing your best.  It’s really important to do your best.” (Three more days.) “I know you can do better!  Do the best you can!”  Sometimes we’re cheerful and upbeat about it, sometimes we’re snarly.  We do it in the abstract (“do the best you can”) and we do it in the concrete (you have to take the trash out” or “you have to stop spending the whole afternoon on Facebook”).  If you can think of a time when you’ve run yourself ragged insisting about something – to little or no avail – you know what I mean.

This tendency of adults to default to insisting is one of the reasons kids start tuning us out.  We’re often not saying anything they haven’t already heard.  Chronic insisting comes from a genuinely concerned and committed place.  It’s inspiring, actually, to realize that we care about kids enough to keep banging our heads against this wall. But it’s also a largely ineffective practice and an inefficient use of energy we really don’t have to spare.  And it doesn’t get anybody what they want. (Unless all a kid wants is for you to stop insisting, or just to please you no matter what.  Both are short term pay-offs that don’t ultimately serve anyone.)

I’ve written before about trying to imagine what things look like to kids.  Often when I do, parents get frustrated with me because what they hear me saying is that the things they (parents) think are important aren’t; that we should only care about what kids want.  What I’m actually saying is that if you really want to forward the agenda you have for your kids, whether it’s that they get a college degree or that they get more organized or they spend less time texting their friends or that they take more of an interest in spending time with you, the way toward those ends is not to keep insisting.  Insisting just makes it worse, and increases the chasm between you and your children when it comes to your goals and hopes for their lives. When you try to go straight for what you know is best, bypassing and disregarding the perspective that informs what your child does and doesn’t choose to do, you can’t get them on board with much of anything.  Resistance intensifies, and both parties feel oppositional and frustrated.

The way forward, together, is to do everything you can to imagine what the world looks like to your child.  If you take the energy you’ve been spending on insisting and apply it to figuring out what the world actually looks like to your children and what has them do what they do and think what they think and want what they want, you’ll find that what you want for them is not in its essence different from what they’re after. The better you get at it, the more you’ll see that you actually have in common.  Not only that, they’ll learn to see and be interested in what things look like from your perspective.  Then and only then will you have a chance at inspiring the kind of action and commitment you’re hoping for.  (Without force, threat, punishment, etc.) You’ll find that it’s actually possible to find common ground and settle on common goals – that you don’t have to force anything.  You’ll also find yourself lots less tired.