So you have a strong-willed child who argues with everything. Picking your battles might be an option sometimes, but how do you get a strong-willed child to listen during an emergency?
Parents frequently ask this question and for good reason. Especially for young children, there will be plenty of times when a child is in a dangerous situation and using The Narrator Technique or The Emotion Technique just isn’t going to cut it.
You’re standing in the street…
That car is coming right towards you, and you think it’s a good idea to stay standing in the street anyway…
The car is getting closer and you still think this is a good idea…
I think it’s pretty obvious that this is NOT what any parent wants to do during an emergency!
So if the techniques in my free 9-step guide don’t work in emergency situations, then what should you do when arguing with your strong-willed child isn’t an option because her safety is at stake? And why hasn’t the guide had one of these techniques included all along?
What's a #parent to do when a strong willed #child won't listen in an emergency? Click To Tweet
The truth is that I’ve never had a great answer to this question. This is one of those questions that I’ve been asked time and time again and (in true therapist fashion) I’ve nodded my head and said, “Yeah…that is a tough one.”
I never really knew what to say. I didn’t have a tried and true solution to help with this situation.
Then, one day, it hit me. I do have a technique that I use when I need kids to listen instantly, when either the child is in danger or allowing the behavior is just not appropriate at the time.
I had been using this technique all along. And it was SO simple. That’s why I didn’t realize it was even a technique, because it was so simple that I was using it in regular conversation with the kids and didn’t even realize there was anything special about it.
The way I talk to strong-willed kids–as a guide who helps them to figure out the right answer, not as the strict authoritarian rule-giver–has helped me to get them to listen to me when I have to be the one to say “No,” because let’s face it, adults do have to say “No” sometimes for legitimate reasons, safety or otherwise.
After building up this relationship where the kids know that I am not this person who gets joy and satisfaction out of saying “No,” giving consequences and making sure they have zero fun in life, I am able to get kids to listen when quick compliance is of the utmost importance, and here’s how.
3 Steps to Getting a Strong-Willed Child to Listen During an Emergency
In most situations, I use The Narrator Technique or one of the other 8 techniques in my guide because I believe there is more value in helping strong willed kids to know why they should do something, instead of instilling fear and an expectation for strict compliance “because I said so.”
However, when a child asks me to do something that I absolutely cannot not allow them to do or I catch them doing something that needs to stop immediately, I simply follow this simple 3-step protocol:
These 3 steps will help a strong willed #child to listen in an emergency Click To Tweet
Step 1: Acknowledge the Request
Instead of instantly saying “No!” or “Stop that right now!” I say something like, “Oh, that is a really good question. I can see why you would want to do that” or “I understand that this is fun and that is why you’ve chosen to do that…”
Special Note: If the emergency is a serious one, like the child is about to get hit by a car, this step will need to be skipped. There just isn’t enough time for it. To help this be effective in an emergency situation, try to acknowledge their reason for asking or wanting to do something as often as possible so that when you have to skip this step, it doesn’t seem like just another time that you are giving demands for what needs to be done.
Step 2: Set the Limit
After I acknowledge where they are coming from, I then set the limit.
Unfortunately, even though I totally see why you’re asking me to do that, I can’t let that happen right now.
Even though this is really fun, I need you to come back over here.
Special note: If the emergency is a serious one, like the child is about to be hit by a car, use as few words as possible to indicate your concern. Saying something like, “Get over here!” doesn’t indicate anything dangerous; all it does is tell the child to do something that she might not want to do. Instead, saying something like, “I need you to come over here so you don’t get hit by a car” is going to be much more effective. Remember, strong-willed kids almost always want to know the why behind anything they’re being asked to do.
Step 3: Offer a Follow-Up When Safe
After setting the limit, I let the child know that I’m more than willing to talk about this situation when the time is right (i.e. the danger is gone). I say something like, “I completely understand that this makes you mad. I need you to trust me on this because I’ve never done something to deliberately hurt your feelings. I’ll be glad to talk to you more about this when we get to our classroom.”
Years ago, before I started developing these techniques, I was afraid to tell a child “No” in a setting with lots of people around because I would feel terrified that once I said “No,” the battle would begin.
Even though I still feel that twinge of fear anytime I have to set a limit for a strong-willed child (because don’t we all?), now I know that I can say “No” in a way that reminds them that I understand them, and respect them, yet still need to set a limit because in this situation, I do know best what is needed to keep them safe.
As long as I am willing to talk to them about it later (and to let them share why they think I might have been wrong) [hint: I use The Narrator Technique during this debriefing conversation], then I am able to set a limit and get the child to listen when listening immediately is of the utmost importance. The key is to use this technique only when needed, like in emergency situations when timely compliance is a necessity; otherwise, the child will start to view you as an adult who overuses your authority to demand compliance, which will backfire on a strong willed child.
What do you think? Try this technique for yourself the next time your strong-willed child needs to listen immediately and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.