What are the kids saying?

fighting boysKids’ whining, tantrums, lying, cheating, swearing, or stealing can stretch the most patient parents! What can we do about that?

As the saying goes, it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. In other words, the best way to make tantrums and swearing louder is to give attention to them and curse them. If you join in, believe them, and argue with them, the intensity and frequency will rise, guaranteed. That’s probably not what you want.

Do you want to translate those messages so they’re easier to hear and find out what’s really going on?  Do you want to co-create solutions to the problems rather than making them worse?

Trying to make these behaviours stop is like trying to direct the wind. Instead, explore the conflict first rather than fix it or make it into something else.  Instead, shine your light on the heart of the matter and the essential message your kids are trying to say. You’ll know when your efforts are helping your child to learn when there is movement from angry to sad.

How to do that in 5 steps:


Step 1: Take a deep breath. Go ahead, take another because this isn’t easy.
Remind yourself: Cooling down helps us see the whole picture and creatively solve problems. Before cooling down, my child likely needs to vent just like I do sometimes. My child can sink into my loving arms. I am not a bad parent because my kids do these things. Most kids act this way from time to time. My kids are doing the best they can to communicate that they have unmet needs.

Step 2: Don’t take what your kids are doing personally. Do not fix anything at first. Rather than thinking about ’conflict resolution’, think of ‘conflict exploration’ with the emphasis on ‘exploration’. Now, how would you get into that space of curiosity and learning? Invite your kids to help you to understand the very important and valuable reasons why we do the things we do (i.e., our fundamental needs and that essential message I mentioned earlier).

Step 3: Everything we do and say is the best way we know how to meet our needs. Is your child feeling frustrated because something didn’t work out the way he wanted? These hard-to-hear behaviours are a request for help. Listening and silence are your best tools here.

Step 4: You know yourself and your kids best. Take a chance and make a guess out loud if it feels right. Do this to check that you understand what your child is reacting to. Did you understand them in the way they hoped? If not, check in again.

Step 5: When you both agree that you understand each other, you’ll notice a shift into sadness, a pause, and then to solving the problem in more effective ways than whining, tantrums, lying, cheating, swearing, or stealing. Take a minute to notice how each of you is changed by the dialogue. Do you have new ideas, a fresh perspective, or trust in each other?

These steps may happen over several minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Take your time.


Why would my child lie, cheat, or steal?
Lying, cheating, and stealing are relatively good options when you don’t want someone to know about what you’re doing. If we fear punishment and vulnerability, it may be the best we can do. Our children, just like us, have learned to do things without getting caught.

Following the above 5 steps and listening deeply to what is behind the message facilitates honesty, integrity, respect, and cooperation. When you seek to understand rather than fix what you believe is ‘wrong’ behaviour, you invite exploration and learning.

Two of my young children told me today what they enjoy in a “good mommy”. They said that they like to be free to say anything. So the next time you hear whining, tantrums, or stealing, choose to listen to what your kids are really saying instead of adding fuel to the fire, don’t try to fix anything. Seek to understand. Many times our children say and do things that are hard for us to figure out. When we take the time to be with them in loving comfort and understanding, we create deep connection and enriching relationships. In time, they may learn how to communicate more clearly and easily.

“It’s a life-long challenge developing ways to deal ‘with the mad that we feel’. Those who care for children early on by helping them develop loving healthy inner controls are offering them one of the great gifts of their lives.” Fred Rogers

About Wendy McDonnell

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