When your child is defying you at every twist and turn, it's easy to feel distant and disconnected. They are actively pushing you away, rejecting your love, and disrespecting your rules. Of course you're feeling disconnected!
But maintaining and growing your relationship with your child is the #1 thing that will help your family overcome the difficult behaviors. As a child therapist, I want you to know that this heart-level connection between you and your child is more important than any parenting strategy or therapeutic intervention out there. Let me repeat that:
Your relationship with your child is more important than any parenting strategy or type of therapy!
So here are 5 ways to deepen your relationship with your child:
1. Connect with reassuring touch.
There are so many ways to incorporate nurturing touch into your interaction with your child: from hair-ruffling, shoulder-patting, and high-fives, to hugs, snuggle-time, and massage. Be aware of your child's response to touch. Many sensitive and defiant children are disturbed by light touches and tickles, but are very calmed by the deep pressure of hugs and massage. Give kids 10-20 big hugs a day, regardless of their behavior. When they are acting out is when they need your hugs the most! You might be surprised how many meltdowns are actually prevented by a really good squeeze!
2. Listen deeply, without any agenda.
The quality of your listening is more important than the quantity. Let's be honest: we "listen" all the time without really hearing our kids. It's understandable- there's a lot going on, and kids often ramble on and on about things that are boring, gross, or totally nonsensical. However: Your children need you to listen with all you've got! Even just a few minutes each day of your completely undivided attention makes the difference. Instead of listening in order to respond, just listen to hear. Listen to understand. It's that simple.
3. Nurture your child with your eyes.
Kids spend all day at school hearing "123, Look at Me" only to come home to "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" They are usually getting some eye contact with adults, but it's not always the most nurturing, especially when your child is defiant or struggling in school. Angry and disappointed eyes might actually be the norm. Spend time staring into your child's beautiful, miraculous eyes! This is what new parents do, and even though your baby is perhaps a bit older now, they still need your loving eye contact desperately. Several times a day, look into your child's eyes with wonder, delight and gratitude, as if they were still a precious newborn. Your child is learning to see herself through your expressions. A daily dose of adoration can boost your child's self-esteem in profound ways.
4. Routines and traditions provide security, reducing power struggles.
Create a routine with your child that allows for quality time. It can be as quick, simple or silly as you want, as long as you will stick with it! Consistency is more important than keeping up with Martha Stewart or putting in long hours. Get up a few minutes early each morning so you can snuggle together to gently transition from sleep to waking. Read a book together or give a back rub every night before bed. Make up a special, secret family handshake. Have a Mother-Daughter date night once a month. You get the idea. Defiant kids tend to push people away when they are struggling. This can lead to power struggles and a lot of disappointment when your efforts to connect with them are rejected. If you already have a routine in place, they will be less likely to reject it, and your relationship will be stronger. As an added bonus, routines and traditions create a feeling of security, predictability, and safety that is hard to find elsewhere.
5. Laughter gives you an "in."
It's been said that the distance between two people is the shortest when they are laughing together. Laughter is powerful medicine that cuts through tension, soothes anxiety and creates strong feelings of love, fun, and togetherness. You don't have to be a comedian to make this happen- just find a funny book or t.v. show to enjoy together. You get extra points for inside jokes!
Want some quick strategies to avoid the dreaded power struggles? Read my post about disarming defiant kids HERE.
Having a rough time with your child's defiance? Feel like nothing is working and you've hit a dead end? You are not alone. Connect with me HERE to learn more about how I help kids (and parents). Things can be different for your family.