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  • Writer's pictureArt of Raising Humans

Four Things to Keep in Mind When My Kid is Saying "No" and Not Following Directions

Updated: Jun 20

Ever wonder what is going on in your child/teen when they're not following directions?

It can be so, so hard when we have asked our child or teen to do something and the request is met with either a loud or silent refusal. As parents, we can feel lost as to what is happening and what to do.

The mindset we choose to engage from in these hard moments is critical! What we believe to be true about our child will impact and guide what happens next.

Four Beliefs to Keep in Mind

Even when it doesn't appear so on the outside, our children are always intrinsically motivated, a fancy way to say they want to do things. If you're like me, you're probably doubting this when all evidence can point to the opposite! But, just as we see babies fall and get back up over and over when learning to walk, big kids and teens are also intrinsically motivated. Things can get in the way, we'll get to that in a moment, but know that kids have motivation!

Deep down, they want to succeed, Yup! Even when we feel like they don't care or they even say they don't care, success is its own reward and we all want it!

Children and teens want to gain new abilities, Our brain even rewards us with dopamine and creates a positive feedback loop when we learn new skills. In other words, it naturally is exciting.

Children and teens want to make meaningful contributions. When we are a part of something bigger (ie., a family, school, or other community) and we are contributing, we feel and know we are an important part of the system. Again, children and teens feel this too and want to know they are an integral contributor to your family.

So what's up with the "No!" and defiance?

That defiant stance, outright refusal to follow our directions, excessive argument over simple requests, meltdown over what seems like no big deal to us - it so rarely comes from a place of intentional disobedience or desire to push our buttons as parents.

More often than not, such challenging behaviors are an expression of underlying needs, struggles, or roadblocks getting in the way of what they genuinely aspire toward - learning, growing, mastering skills, achieving their goals, and being helpful.

Perhaps they're feeling frustrated because a task is still too difficult for their current developmental abilities. Perhaps they're anxious about disappointing our expectations. Perhaps they're overwhelmed by big emotions they don't yet have the regulation skills to manage.

Whatever it is, a child's outward behavior typically stems from a vulnerability or unmet need obstructing their inner drive for mastery, competence, self-actualization and creating a positive impact.

Starting Place for Parents

The mindest of the parent in hard moments impacts what happens next! So in those heated parenting moments that try our patience, let's strive to pause and see past the surface misbehaviors. Underneath lies a motivated, capable, fundamentally good-natured child who - like all humans - wants to feel successful and valued.

If we approach our children from this place, it will help the next steps of guidance be more successful! 

With compassion, emotional attunement and coaching from us, children can move through those roadblocks. We can help them develop the skills to manage big feelings, persist through challenges, cope with frustrations, and have their inherent needs met in a positive way.

When we see their acting out as a sign that they're struggling rather than simply "being bad," we can be their grounded support for growth - not the ones creating more obstacles.

Some Supportive Suggestions:

• Get curious about what unmet needs may be driving the behavior

• Use empathy and validation before problem-solving ("You seem really frustrated. It's hard when...")

• Break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps

• Offer age-appropriate responsibilities so they can feel truly helpful

• Model healthy self-regulation and coping strategies

• Celebrate efforts along the way, not just end results

• Adjust expectations if they don't match developmental abilities

• Be patient and see their potential past the momentary struggles

With compassion and guidance, we can overcome challenges together and nurture that shining motivation within.

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