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The Recipe for Reducing Reluctance.

Helping your children do the things they don’t want to do

We’ve all been there …. Mornings when our child doesn’t want to get out of bed to go to school, or they’re sat at the table staring at the carrots they’ve recently decided are horrid, or refusing to get in the car for the first day of holiday camp they’re nervous about (despite begging to go a month ago!) or the swimming lesson where they know the water will be cold, or the football match when they think the other team will easily defeat them, or the test that they wish they had prepared a bit more for …

There are so many situations when our children dig their heels in and resist doing something … and quite likely we’ve reacted in at least one of these ways:

  1. We start off calm and try to convince them that all will be fine once they get there, and when those heels get even more firmly implanted, the volume of our voice starts to increase as our frustration level rises.
  2. We literally force them to move, get in the car, get to the pool although this gets harder as they get bigger and heavier!
  3. We think ‘hooray’ because we really didn’t want to have to stand on the side of a muddy football pitch, in the cold rain and feign interest, so we tell our child that they can skip it if they want.
  4. We plead and eventually bribe them into stirring … and, in the process, we blow our screentime limits and commitment to healthy snacks to bits.

Maybe there are other things you’ve tried, and tried again, each time hoping for a different result, and yet always finding yourself back at the same place – feeling annoyed, frustrated and hopeless. We start to think there must be another way ….

And there is! We can get out our positive parenting cookbook and follow the recipe for reducing reluctance and resistance!

Step One | Find your Calm

After you’ve asked your child to get moving, and you’re met with full-on inertia, notice your own emotional state. Are you instantly triggered about about to lose it? This is the moment to hit your pause button and find your calm. It could be a series of a big inhales followed by longer, slower exhales; or you might remind yourself that your child is having a problem rather than being a problem; or you might take a few minutes alone so you have the emotional resources to take on something that in the past has not gone as you had intended.

Step Two | Start Positive

It isn’t always easy to get off to a positive start, particularly when we’re in the habit of starting negative. But there are very good reasons why starting with Descriptive Praise helps.

First, it sends a message to your child that (a) you’re not mad, (b) they’re not bad, and (c) you’re there to help them. A child who feels understood and believes they’re already doing something a bit right is way more likely to take a single step forward … and that’s what you’re working towards.

Step Three | Put Feelings First

We’re pulled towards jumping on the behaviour and telling them to ‘just get moving’ but it almost always backfires, if not in the moment then over time. When our children are upset, their emotional brain is dominant, and that’s the part of the brain we have to connect with first using Emotion Coaching. We put the behaviour aside, for the moment, and we empathise. That kind connection soothes our child just that little bit, so we can move on to ….

Step Four | Combine and Add Solutions

We’ve put the ingredients in place – calm, positive and connection – and now it’s time to combine and add Solutions!

We’ve colour coded the Emotion Coaching, Descriptive Praise and Solutions phrases to give you a sense of how these three ingredients combine to reduce reluctance.

“I get it. It’s hard to get out of a nice toasty bed to do something you don’t want to do. And you already lifted your head out from underneath the duvet. That grunt tells me that you wish I’d leave you alone. Hmm … I totally would if it were Saturday. Hey, your elbow is out, you’re well on your way. Is it a gym kit day or regular uniform? Got it … gym … no wonder you want to stay in bed. Having to wear shorts when it’s cold. Brrr. I wonder if there is something that could keep you warmer? I think your jogging bottoms are clean. Would you like those? … Hey … you’re out of bed, and you’ve already got your jogging bottoms on. Way to go!”

“I know carrots aren’t your favourite. Maybe you’re wishing I had extra cucumber. You’ve already licked one. How could we make them a little less carroty? Maybe we could cut them into smaller pieces? Or do you think there’s something we could add to them? Ah, hummous, yeh, that’s a great idea, healthy and tasty, hummous is your secret sauce, right?!”

"Your face is telling me that maybe you’re feeling nervous about the first day of camp. I wonder if you’re worried that you won’t know anyone there. It can feel awkward getting to know new people. I’m glad to see you’ve got your backpack sorted for the day and remembered your lunch. Do you want to practice introducing yourself while we drive there? We’ll have plenty of time…. Even though you were nervous about going, you were pretty quick to get in the car!”

“Having to jump into a cold swimming pool doesn’t feel great. I know. It’s not easy, right? Last time you were there, you got in slowly and that seemed to make it easier for you. Which will you choose today: jump in and get it over with, or take the slow way in? ... Sounds like you have a plan.”

“I wonder if you’re worried that the other team will be better. Didn’t I overhear you chatting with Dad about how you think your team is going to get thrashed in the match today? Talking about stuff like that with Dad is a smart idea. He’s always been a gracious loser, and winner! What are your ideas if you do lose? And what about if you win? … Sounds to me like you know exactly what to do!”

“It’s been a busy week and maybe you wish you’d had more time to prepare for the vocabulary test. Maybe you’re worried that you’ll forget something. Even though you were busy, you made time to write the words down and you asked me to quiz you. I know from quizzing you last night that you know all the words. What would help you keep your thinking brain in charge? That’s a super idea! Taking some deep breaths as you walk to school is a great way to do that!”

These recipes have been tested by thousands of parents who are very happy with the results. It’s not always an instant success. You may luck in and your child does an about-turn and dives into the pool or gobbles down the carrot. More often it’s a slow build-up.

And that’s OK because our goal is not perfection, it’s improvement.

Calmly and positively helping our hesitant, resistant children take those first steps, letting them feel that it is their own effort that has propelled them, means they feel a pinch better about themselves and start to trust their ability to get into action a little more. That means they – and you – are more likely to try again.