Q & A with Tammy Sassoon
I have a very difficult time getting my children to do what I tell them to do. It seems that every part of the day is a struggle, and I just can’t get my kids to do their daily routines. (showering, supper, homework, bedtime) I am beginning to give up, and was wondering if you have any advice.
Many people have the mistaken perspective that if a child is not listening to an adult then there’s nothing the adult can do. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is true that you cannot control your child’s behaviors, you can effectively motivate your child to listen to you.
If that is the case, why Do So Many Parents Fail to Effectively Motivate Their Children? In order for you to gain cooperation from your children, you need to get inside their heads to understand what they want. One of the main reasons that our children do not listen to us is that we speak to them in terms of what we want.
Imagine that you walk into a store in search of a very warm pair of winter gloves. A saleswoman sees you picking out a certain pair of insulated gloves and approaches you saying, “Lady, I don’t know why you are choosing these. Do you know how heavy these gloves are? Let me show you something that is not so warm.” You happen to notice that this saleswoman is sweating and drinking cold water even though it’s very cold outside. You know that you are the exact opposite and are always freezing. You ignore the woman and purchase the gloves that you were originally looking at.
Ignoring Someone’s Interests is a Recipe for Failure. The saleswoman was a concerned woman who really just wanted you to make what she thought was the better purchase. She knew that SHE would have been very uncomfortable in a heavy pair of gloves. Additionally, this saleswoman also had a flair for fashion and thought that it was really important that you buy the nicer looking gloves. The problem was that she did not speak to you in terms of what YOU wanted. Since she was only thinking in terms of what SHE wanted, she did not succeed in motivating you to do things differently. Though she was actually a very well-meaning saleswoman, her approach was totally ineffective. She believed that, “If it would be good for me, it’s probably good for you.” Her technique did not work because this saleswoman completely ignored your interests.
How Often Do We Ignore Our Children’s Interests?
We say things like:
“Sam, you are making a huge mess!” (Does Sam really care?)
“Johnny, stop doing that. You are hurting him.” (Johnny’s thinking, “Mom, I knew that. It was actually my intention.”)
“Bob, finish your supper. You need to get into the bath already.” (Bob is thinking, “I’d really rather not.”)
In each of these situations the parent was trying to explain things with the WRONG assumption that the child has the same interests as the adult. So when parents make these comments based on what THEY actually want, they have not gained anything but a lack of cooperation.
We Listen to People Who Think About Our Interests Now, imagine that the saleswoman who wants you to purchase the lighter, nicer pair of gloves understands that you always feel cold. As she sees you choosing the warmest gloves in the store, she approaches you and says, “I see that you are looking for something very warm.”
You open up to her and tell her that you are always cold, because you feel like she understands you. She then says, “Let me show you a pair of gloves that are not quite as warm, but absolutely stunning. If you’d like, our store provides a great service. We can attach a removable wool lining of your choice to any pair of gloves for no fee.”
This time she is addressing YOUR concern and telling you how you can have YOUR need to feel warm met and the added bonus of enjoying a fashionable pair of gloves. You look at these stunning gloves that she shows you and you fall in love with them. You go to the seamstress in the back of the store and check out the different linings. You find one that you like and purchase the beautiful gloves that this wonderful saleswoman recommended.
Try To Understand People as Deeply as You Can
What did the saleslady do right in the second scenario? She got into your head! She understood two important things.
One was that that you wanted a really warm pair of gloves, even though that would not have been her own choice.
She understood the basic human need to feel understood.
Understanding Your Child’s Motivations Can Change Your Life
Let’s get inside the heads of our children to figure out what they actually do want and try to encourage positive behaviors using THEIR thought processes and their motivations. Instead of saying, “Finish your supper, so you can get in the bath,” try “When you finish your supper, you can use the new bubble bath.” The child who is not interested in taking a bath might be very motivated to take a bubble bath.You get the idea. If you think about what the child really wants and put aside what you would want when you are trying to motivate him, you will find the cooperation level in your home rising drastically.
I see that many education books teach parents how to motivate children. Shouldn’t Kids Just Listen?
I often hear parents say that they are tired of finding creative strategies to encourage their children to cooperate. “Children should just listen! Why do I need to speak my child’s language and why should my child only listen when she is motivated to?” Well, let me share with you that in all my years of working with young children, I have never seen even one young child cooperate altruistically with a parent “just because.”
Young children cooperate for a few reasons. I will list some of them, using the example of motivating your child to take a bath. Offering a bubble bath was just one type of incentive that would motivate a child. Some of the reasons that children listen are:
- It makes sense for them to do so (“A bath will make me clean.”)
- There is a worthwhile incentive (“Bubble baths are fun.”)
- To avoid punishment (“I want Mommy to read to me tonight.”)
- They understand the social gain (“I will not smell.”)
- It’s embarrassing or childish not to (“Not listening is childish.”)
Your job is to create positive opportunities that motivate the child to want to behave properly. The more you understand what your specific child wants in life, the more successful you will be in getting your child to cooperate.
Even Adults Need To Be Motivated. In order for you to really make your child WANT to listen to you, a deep understanding of human motivation is required. “Nothing motivates my child” are words that I often hear from parents. Actually, we are all motivated by something. One of the differences between average parents and expert parents is the ability to delve into the child’s head and understand what motivates him or her.
Imagine that you are about to pull into a parking spot that you were patiently waiting for and someone quickly takes it from you. The guy who is about to steal your spot tells you that he has to run to a dentist’s appointment, but you know that you are also running late to your own doctor’s appointment. You are upset and not ready to give away the spot.
Then, the guy says, “Please, lady if I don’t get my teeth taken care of now, it will take me two weeks to get another appointment. I’ll give you $200.00 for the spot.” Suddenly, you have no problem giving up the parking spot that was rightfully yours. Does this mean that you did not want the spot? No, it means that you wanted the $200.00 more than you wanted the spot. Our children are also gaining something by being oppositional. (Attention, entertainment, power, stimulation, etc.) Our job is to look deeply at each child, and figure out what he or she wants even more than to misbehave.
YOU Needed $200 to Give Up Something Valuable, What Does Your CHILD Need?
Though the parking spot was very valuable to you, the $200.00 was more valuable than the parking spot that you wanted. A child who is engaged in any form of misbehavior is indeed gaining something valuable from participating in the negative act. Two examples of things that the child might be gaining are attention or stimulation.
Our job is to figure out what we need to do in order to create a gain that is greater for the child than whatever is being gained from participating in the misbehavior. In other words, what is the equivalent of $200 to the child who will not give up the persistence to be defiant?
Make it Worthwhile for Your Children to Cooperate.
You would like your children to listen the first time, share with others, use a calm voice, and be engaged in all sorts of pro-social behaviors. The only problem is that children often want the exact opposite. They don’t always want to listen, share, speak calmly, etc. The bad news is that the work is on you. The good news is that if you do the work, you can make a huge difference.
The question remains, “What does this child want more than to be involved in this misbehavior?” Is it power, praise, information, acknowledgement, tangible rewards, relationships, or a combination of all or some of the above? Every child is different and if we pay attention to what is important to the individual child, we are extremely likely to motivate children towards success.