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  • Sarina Shirazee

You can't force a child to do what you want them to do

You can’t force a child to do what you want them to do. As an adult, if you find yourself saying (or thinking) things like “too bad”, “it’s my way or the highway”, “suck it up” - please pause, check the date (it’s 2020, so leave these phrases from outdated behaviourist theories at the door) and think about WHY you’re being faced with resistance. ⠀

For young children especially, it’s the adult’s job to find out WHY. Are they tired? Hungry? Are they being asked to do something they find difficult? Have they already been told what to do a hundred times? Are they busy doing something they enjoy? Have they developed a connection with you? ⠀

I want to elaborate a bit on that last one, especially for teachers. If a child hasn’t developed a connection or significant relationship with you, it’s quite typical that they won’t want to do as you ask. If you haven’t spent time getting to know them and trying to understand them, they may not feel connected enough to work with you. ⠀

It’s important to always empathise first. Eg “I can see you don’t want to do this. You look frustrated. I’d be frustrated too. What do you think we could do to make this easier/more enjoyable?” Offer choices. Offer control. For older children (i.e. school-aged), brainstorm ideas together. If they’re having a particularly bad day, do they really have to do it? I’d be pretty annoyed if I was having a bad day and my partner made me exercise just because he said so.⠀

It’s normal for kids to resist. Kids need to know that they can have a say and negotiate with an adult - this leads to a sense of autonomy and control, which all kids need. Constantly being told what to do will wear them down...and often it will wear them down into submission/obedience. ⠀

But do we want children who are obedient and just do as they’re told, or children who feel comfortable expressing how they feel?⠀

Of course if a child is resisting all tasks all of the time, there could be something bigger going on that needs to be addressed by a professional. And of course sometimes kids just have to do something (e.g. for safety reasons). In these cases, if they don’t want to, at least empathise.


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