Helping Kids do Things they Don’t Want to Do: Why We Give Up

I saw a family this week whose child was very frightened about going to school.  We had been working on lots of levels to reduce this child's fear - from in school strategies (safe places, buddy programs, extra teacher help for the child, giving her special jobs and activities) and also at home strategies (coping techniques, helping her have more choice about when she went to school and what she did, and ways to help the child feel calmer, problem solving and so on).  

The parents' job was to help the child gradually increase the time they spent at school - starting with a 10 minute visit in the morning while they stayed with the child.

Unfortunately the parents were finding this really hard to do - in the face of their child's distress, they gave up and didn't push her.  This is understandable.  It's really hard to go against our children's wishes.  Here are some reasons it is hard.

1. Too little energy

It’s really hard to keep fighting against a child, to have to be physically present somewhere, to have to give up other important things – sometimes it is all too hard.

2. Don’t want to be disliked

Our parental instincts and instincts as people is to be liked.  We want to make our children happy, not upset.  It is really hard to fight against that.

3. Can’t cope with the child’s distress

Children can be incredibly distressed when they have to do things they don’t want to do.  They can be extremely anxious, upset, angry, sad and frustrated.  This distress seems “wrong” and we avoid doing things so that it doesn’t happen.

4. Think there must be another way/wish it was different

We hope as parents, that we won’t have to make our kids do things but instead, they themselves will want to do it themselves at some point.  Something will happen or someone will convince them that they have to do the hard thing.  This is especially easy to think because we see the child do the hard thing “sometimes” and so we think that they “can” do it without us, and so we keep waiting for it to happen again.

5. Think it doesn’t really matter anyway

We tell ourselves that the “hard thing” isn’t that important.  Or else we try not to think about it too much.

6. Think it won’t work/I can’t make them

We have usually already tried – really hard – to make them do the hard thing, so we give up because we believe it is impossible for us to make a difference anyway.

When we "give up" as parents in helping our children do things they don't want to do, it is often one of these reasons at play.  It is worth being aware of them.  Sometimes we will still choose to let it go, sometimes we might choose to push through them.  Which of these 6 reasons influences you the most in trying to help your child do the things they don’t want to do?