It was a typical morning. My son appeared at the bathroom door as I was brushing my teeth, holding his lovey and looking sleepy and adorable.
“I came downstairs!” he said. “I used to call for you, but now I just come down.”
He’s really into chronicling all the ways he’s growing these days, as if I hadn’t noticed that all of his pants are too short and he’s suddenly using words like “fortunately.” My heart aches a little each time, a bittersweet mix of sadness and pride at how big he’s getting.
“Should we have some cuddles?” I asked. Nodding yes, he led the way back to his room, where we snuggled with a book for a few minutes. It was a lovely time, and, as usual, my favorite part of the day.
What came next is also pretty common these days, and definitely not my favorite.
“OK buddy, in a few minutes it’s going to be time to use the potty and get dressed,” I said. “NOOOOOOOO!!!” he shrieked, leaping off the bed and running out the door, all sleepiness gone in a flash.
This kid will do almost anything to avoid getting dressed in the morning.
At four-and-a-half, this is his current resistance point. Before this one emerged, we had (in no particular order): resisting the bath, fighting the car seat, refusing food of any kind, and the oh-so-wonderful periods where seemingly any request from an adult brought a torrent of tears and wails.
I happen to know that my child is not the only one who resists the normal, everyday aspects of his existence with a kind of endurance that would be admirable were it not so darn aggravating.
Here are a few tips for managing your child’s resistance respectfully, and with an eye toward deepening her sense of connection (which—you guessed it—also can help lessen the resistance). All of these tools work well with babies, toddlers, and older children as well.
1. Slow down.
This simple tool is something we can do with our babies starting at birth to help them ease into life in our very busy, fast-moving world.
It helps enormously with young toddlers who seem to wake up one day with the word “NO!” on their lips and little else on their minds for months.
And it’s still an effective practice for your school-aged child whose will has only grown stronger.
When we slow down—how we talk, how we move, and how much time we give to a task—we build in space for our child to finish a process or work through a feeling. We also can find that we’re better able to soften around the resistance and see it for what it is—a natural part of every child’s growing independence and individuation.
Slowing down often also naturally increases our patience for dealing with these challenging moments.
Again, this preparation practice can help with tiny ones and adults alike. In fact, I encourage parenting partners to use it with each other, as it can help us manage our expectations for things like family events, trips, and dates, and see where our thinking might be shared and where it diverges.
The practice is to take a few moments—or more time, if you have it—to talk to your child about what is coming next or down the road.
“In a few minutes, we’re going to start getting ready for school. It will be time to get dressed, use the potty, and brush your teeth. After that we’ll have breakfast. If you’d like, I can help you with those things. I’ll let you know when it’s time.”
“Tomorrow morning we’re going to visit Grandma and Grandpa. We’ll have our usual morning routine at home, and then we’ll get in the car and drive out to visit them. We’ll have lunch with them, and then maybe we’ll walk the dog. How does that sound?”
This practice can still be helpful even if the response to the preparation is a big old “NO!” or “I don’t want to!” once again. It gives your child time to wrap his head around what will happen, and to feel that he is a respected member of your family—even if he doesn’t always get to choose what happens. It also gives you a chance to prepare yourself should there be resistance.
3. Take time to connect.
Another favorite practice of mine for managing resistance at all ages is to take a little time to connect. On a busy morning this can often look like just one or two minutes for a cuddle, a short book, or a bit of play (see below for more on play).
It can be five minutes of one-on-one time with a child before a large family gathering.
Or nursing your baby in a quiet, darkened room, where you really pay attention to her and your connection, before picking her older brother up from school.
Sometimes building in this practice can mean the difference between an experience that goes relatively smoothly and one that goes off the rails.
Play comes more naturally to some of us than others. I generally have to work hard at it, while my husband seems to have it in his back pocket at all times. If it comes easily to you, go for it! If you’re like me, it may take a little practice to use this tool, especially if you are feeling triggered by your child’s resistance.
I never advise using play to distract children from their feelings or as a way to trick them into doing something. But if we think of play as a way to connect more deeply with our kids in a space that is natural and deeply enjoyable for them, it can be enormously helpful in shifting resistance.
Play can lighten the serious mood we often end up creating when we get into struggles with our kids. It can be a chance to flip our roles and act confused, silly, bumbling, or clumsy—all of which children find hilarious—and get them to “help” us figure out how to get their shoes on right or open the front door so we can leave the house.
Here’s a great post with more information on this practice, which Hand in Hand Parenting calls Playlistening.
And here are some other posts on play:
Do you have other tools that help you parent respectfully in moments of resistance? Please share in the comments!