7 ways to connect before you direct

The brain is wired to resist coercion. That’s why being told what to do triggers defiance. Unless we feel very connected, in that moment, to the person telling us what to do. This is an intriguing piece of the parenting puzzle that I wrote about in “The secret to stopping power struggles.” Here are some ideas for creating a little connection in the moment:

1. Acknowledge desires and emotions. “You really want that, and you can’t have it today. You look frustrated.” “You’re feeling so upset. Let me give you a hug and help you cry.” “You want me to stop talking. You don’t want me to tell you no.”

2. Let your child be the boss. Let’s say your kid has been telling you which way to drive to school, and it’s turning into a power struggle. Try involving your child in the process. “You love to know about directions. Which way did I just turn, right or left? Next I need to turn on X street. Help me look for X street.” Or take the back seat, at whatever level possible. “I’ve printed out a map of our neighborhood, and together let’s pick a route to school. This will be your very own route. Would you like that? We can take your route to school on Tuesday.”

3. Get playful. Maybe getting your 2-year-old dressed is a chase. “OK, you run down the hallway toward me for a hug! Then we put on one piece of clothing. Run, then shirt. Run, then pants.” Or, when it’s time for your 4-year-old to clean his room, make it a game: “Can you spot all the shirts?”

4. Give big greetings. “I’m happy to see you!” (Not “How was preschool? Did you keep your pants dry today?”) Give one-on-one attention right when you get home. When my husband takes even 15 minutes for this as soon as he gets home from work, the evening goes so much more smoothly. When he immediately launches into whatever happened that day, our daughter tugs on him, tries to talk over him, repeats “Excuse me!” and says, “Daddy, you’re talking too much.”

5. Share something you like about your child. “At the park, you asked other little friends if they want to play with you. You’re so friendly and outgoing.” “I love these little feet!”

6. Practice rules together. “OK, we’re at the park. Where’s the safe area to run? Yes, the grass. Where’s the danger zone? The street; you got it. Show me how you stay on the grass. Oooh, one foot on the street–you’re almost on the grass. You’re on the grass! You know how to be safe!”

Bonus: Learn the three-part method behind this language.

7. Be present, be present, be present. Listen and ask questions. Suggest that thing your child loves to do together–reading a story or building with blocks–before he has to beg you. Keep the TV off. Stash your phone.



Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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