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If there’s one certainty in parenthood, it’s that at some point or other, your child will stop listening to what you ask of them and do their own thing instead.
When this happens, it can feel very much like you’re hitting a brick wall – you’ve counted to three, given them ‘the look’, but to no avail. Without shouting or losing your temper, what exactly can you do?
Parenting for Brain recently shared the questions repeatedly cropping up among TikTok’s parenting community – and perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘how do you discipline a child who won’t listen to you?’ came up often.
Pamela Li, editor-in-chief and expert at the parenting wellness brand, suggests when a child refuses to follow instructions, discipline in this instance will only be successful if a “three-component system” is implemented.
Here’s what that means...
What’s the three-step system?
1. Parents should work to build a supportive relationship with their child, said Li, that way they see them as “a respected and caring caregiver”.
2. Next, make sure you’re introducing positive reinforcement where possible, adopting a “caught-being-good” attitude. This is where you praise good behaviour rather than just focusing on punishing or pointing out the bad, Li explained.
Paediatrician Edward Gaydos agrees with this approach. He told the Cleveland Clinic that paying attention to what your child does that is good and recognising this out loud “can go a long way”.
3. The last step is to allow natural consequences. Offering an example of how this might play out, Li said: “The excitement of the holiday season can make bedtime more difficult than usual.
“But rather than punishing them for a mistake they don’t understand they’re making, if your child refuses to go to sleep, let the struggle of waking up in the morning teach them their lesson about staying up past bedtime.
“That way, the child knows that there are repercussions to their actions and hopefully will start behaving to avoid them.”
Other techniques to try
It’s also important to be clear with children about what your expectations are, said Dr Gaydos. So, in short, you want to be setting clear, realistic limits and goals with your child.
After all, saying “you need to be good today” is pretty vague. So, be specific with tasks and let your child know what being good actually looks like.
It’s also important to have boundaries (for example, screen time curfews or a set bed time) and to stick to them.
“We set these limits, then we follow through with them,” said Dr Gaydos. “If your child falters, they should know that there will be a consistent, expected consequence. There are no surprises, no new negotiations and no retractions.”