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‘My children don’t have to listen’

“I don’t mean it’s annoying, but she just doesn’t listen.” It’s Christmas Day, we’ve just finished the starter and for reasons I don’t remember, the conversation suddenly turns to the character of my three-year-old daughter. I stare at my mother, take a sip of wine, open my mouth for a witty answer, but no sound comes out. Because what do I want to say? That she is indeed not the prototype exemplary child? That she goes her own way? Know very well what she does and does not want? That I am proud of those qualities? Shall I explain that she listens well, just not always obeys? And that you don’t have to? It all sounds so soft, so floaty.

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In search of the right words I suddenly hear a small voice next to me. “Mom, I’m hungry. Can I have a sandwich? ” I can feel the eyes of the rest of the party on me. If I send my daughter back to bed, as befits a strict, resolute mother, she will probably rebel with a lot of noise and wake up her sleeping cousins. I decide to follow my gut. “Okay, one slice of bread.” Completely satisfied, she crawls up against me, gulps down her sandwich, wipes the crumbs from her mouth, says, “Now I’m going to sleep again,” and climbs the stairs.

Ignore commands

A few hours later, I lie in bed myself, pouring out my frustrations on my nodding husband. It bothers me that I am seen as a mother who does not raise her children. A mother without authority. Whose children disobey.

At that moment I know exactly what I would have liked to say at dinner. That my oldest questioned every line from the age of four (“Why are kids cheeky and parents aren’t? Why are you in charge of me?”) approach ‘. That my daughter stoically ignored all commands from the moment she started toddlerhood (“No, Mom, I’m not putting on my boots. Nor my coat. I’m not going to sleep. I’m not getting out of the bath. I’m not brushing my teeth.” That I have discovered that fighting does not work for me, that moving along, seeing why they do not obey, what is the reason for the wrong, angry behavior and looking for a solution together, is much more profitable. The fact that I close is not only because parenting is something very personal.

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It is also because in company I am quite of the good, adjusted kind myself. Two years ago, after a lecture by the American parenting guru Alfie Kohn, I realized how much I was trying to impose those qualities on my rebellious eldest son. “We don’t look at why a child does something, what he wants to say with his behavior. We are just trying to teach children to obey, ”says Kohn. I realized that with all my corrections I wanted to turn my son into a mini-me: an obedient, adjusted child. Alfie Kohn showed me that my children are autonomous beings.

Heard and seen

“We sometimes forget that children show undesirable and violent behavior because they want to be heard and seen,” says educationalist Eva Bronsveld. She advises parents who are struggling with their children’s behavior to name what they see more often. “Connect with your child, touch him and acknowledge his emotion, no matter how crazy it may be in your eyes. For example, say, “I can see you are angry, I get that.” This is how you work with your child, instead of punishing or rewarding him. Once your child has calmed down, you can come up with a solution together. You will see that your child feels less helpless, and the battle and tantrums diminish. You are no longer opposite, but next to each other. ”


Psychologist Laura Fobler also believes that parents could consult more with their children in their upbringing. “Often parents use their power to make children obey. But who are you to determine everything for your child? ” Fobler argues that children who are raised rigorously often engage in secret behavior to avoid punishment, grabbing sweets without saying so, for example. “If you are always told to listen to your parents, it is more difficult to make your own choices later in puberty. Chances are that your children will then listen to their friends instead of themselves. ”

To obey

After Alfie Kohn’s lecture, I decide to let go of ‘my-children-must-obey-upbringing’ and start working together more. In all the daily struggles, I consider how much struggle they are worth. Do I want to be right, be the boss, do I think something should be the way the outside world should or can I actually give them their way? And so I’m not going to have endless arguments when my daughter doesn’t want to wear her shoes, but instead tell her that she gets cold, wet feet when she goes out in socks. If she doesn’t care, I won’t stop her anymore, but smile as she happily jumps through the puddles in socks.

After playing, does she refuse to go home with her niece because she wants to take the purple doll’s pram with her? Then I don’t lift her firmly and put her in the car, screaming loudly, but say that I understand her: “It is really a very beautiful doll’s pram. I understand you want to take it with you. Shall we put it on your wish list for your birthday? “” Yeah-ha for my birthday, “she sniffles relieved and then hops along to the car and never returns to it.


Yes, this solution takes a little longer and yes, I have to resist the disapproving looks of other parents, but it returns so much energy and joy that I take it for granted. I discuss the morning ritual with my seven-year-old son. In the morning I walk into his room about ten times to cautiously tell him it is time to get up, then I shout in increasing volume at the bottom of the stairs: “Now get up!” In the end he comes down in his pajamas much too late and cranky. I grumble why he “doesn’t just listen to one question” and we both arrive at school in a bullying mood just in time. “I don’t like getting so angry every morning and starting the day in such a hurry,” I say. What do you think we can do about that? ”

“I don’t like it when you wake me up, I just want to wake up.” His words give me the idea of ​​my own alarm clock. He is enthusiastic. We set the alarm for seven o’clock, it snoozes twice and has been dressed downstairs every morning at half past seven for weeks.

Do what you do

I notice that he likes it when I tell him how I feel about something, instead of blaming him. Then it closes. But how do you teach children good manners when you stop punishing them or telling them what to do? According to Eva Bronsveld, this goes without saying if parents set a good example and let their children do a lot for themselves. “Children do what you do, not what you say. They learn through experiences, by trying things out, by practicing making decisions. Many parents are afraid of letting go of control, but we should have much more confidence in children. ”

She advises offering children choices when they do something that is not allowed. “In dangerous situations, such as when my son swings a stick inside, I take him aside and give him a choice: go outside with that stick or play quietly inside. In this way he experiences control himself. When children are very busy, it often means that they can no longer think clearly. Then take them to a stimulus-free environment to unwind. ”

Child lock

I discovered that for me there is only one situation in which my children really have to obey: in traffic. But even there I learned a few months ago how much better it works when they experience something themselves. From the age of two, my daughter pulled the handle on the car door when she was in the car. Even though it had a child lock on it, we kept telling her angrily how “incredibly dangerous that was” and threatened to stop in parking lots. It didn’t help, she kept doing it.

Until we got a second car and I forgot that there was no child lock on it. All of a sudden, on our way back from the nursery, we drove across a roundabout with an open back door. Daughter screamed, son screamed. I decisively pulled over the car, closed the door and said quietly to my daughter, “That’s why you couldn’t touch that lever.” She looked at me wide-eyed, nodded and never touched the lever again.


The atmosphere in the house has changed due to the new approach. There is more harmony, peace and fun and the bond with my children has become much stronger. But it is not easy. If you no longer sanction ‘wrong’ behavior, there are no ready-made solutions anymore. That means looking for what works again in every situation, having a lot of patience and being willing to let go of old beliefs. It is material for discussion with my husband, who is of the stricter approach, but realizes that it had no structural effect whatsoever. He also now sees that since we work together more, the children have become more creative, more solution-oriented, more confident and more curious. In their quest for autonomy, they discover every day for themselves what they do and do not want and they get to know their emotions and feelings, skills that are essential for later.

Of course things don’t always go well. Sometimes they fight each other, they keep yelling when I ask them to take it easy, my daughter still takes a biscuit when I have said that my son is not allowed or refuses to enter. I still have my hands in the hair on a regular basis, but at the same time come up with more and more creative solutions. I listen to the reason for their fierce struggle, identify their emotions and work with them to see what we can do to resolve it, I set a kitchen timer and let them scream for five minutes, give my daughter a box to keep the biscuit for a later moment and offer my son a choice: come in and play a game together or stay outside and go straight to bed.

Command mode

I also try to make clear agreements in advance so that everyone knows where they stand. If they still don’t listen, I emphasize that: we have made agreements, I stick to them, I expect you to do the same. And I will leave it at that because I know it will have an effect in the long term. Only sometimes I simply don’t have time to wait for my daughter to get off the swing. I am unable to calmly continue the discussion with my son about screen time. And I shoot on stressful mornings in command mode.

Fortunately my son tells me what that feels like: “Mom, why are you talking to me like I’m a dog?” I now know that my despair stems from powerlessness and take time out myself. I’ll sit on the toilet for ten minutes. With the door locked. Usually my son bangs on the door after a minute. “Mommy has your bucket run over? I’m going to play outside! ”

This article has previously appeared in Kek Mama.

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