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The Illusion of Fear Based Compliance - Why Kids are Not Listening.

I had children quite young as many with my background do. I had to work hard to circumvent my lack of skill in parenting. I spent hours while pregnant reading books on parenting and digesting everything and anything about raising a healthy child. I only knew that I would not raise mine as I had been raised and that the strength of the kindness of my nature and my resilience would serve well as a parent. I developed self-regulation skills and delved into psychology, rendering a deep understanding of the damage that was me. My brain had been rewired and my early story written changing who I may have been but I knew that only I could forge who I would become, for my children. We all have the power to heal and rewrite our stories. We can stop cyclic dysfunction in its path, passing only a positive future onto our children.

When I was a little girl, my dad would say no to everything. His approach to conversation, when he did not like what was being done or said, was to start yelling. This was especially true if you disagreed with his point of view. Now, for me, the yelling was often followed by a beating but that is not the typical case. The problem with his approach, however, goes much deeper. As a society we seem to view children as less than, vehicles to act out our own rages, a safe place for us to lose control. We mistake discipline for a simple lack in our own control. The response then, becomes about us not about teaching something or sending a message. In turn, we are most often only acting out what was done to us, the skills we learned as children. This is the cyclic nature of dysfunction.

These behaviours of my father did not make me more compliant though they did make me afraid. I developed a strong sense of distrust which only made me work harder not get caught doing what he may not like. He gave me no reason to respect his authority over me. After all, if he could not control himself, why should he control me?

That brings us to that nasty word - control. Why do we feel the need to control others in our lives? To have them think like us, be like us; live out a future that we have envisioned for them. Control is only ever about the controller not the controlled.

Children do not like what they fear and they will always respond negatively; their compliance only a temporary illusion. Once they are out of line sight, they will do what they choose because they have been given nothing to believe in, respect, trust or model themselves after. The fear of what may lie ahead if caught becomes simply a game of cat and mouse. They know what the outcome will be because it is always the same; meaningless exchanges.

Yelling itself is an ineffective response. It never works. It simply teaches the child that they have the upper hand because you have lost control. It lends to a lack of respect for the person raging and poorly models how to respond to disagreements or problems.

As adults we cannot simply yell at our coworkers, friends or spouses or slap our boss or punch out our coworker, yet unilaterally we see it as ok to yell at and rage at children and some people deem it necessary to hit them. Why? What message are we going to send? What is our intended message?

As children we learn to tune out this kind of berating, quickly losing any message that may have been intended. I often think of the Peanuts cartoons and the sound of the unintelligible adult’s voice in the background. That is all that is heard when someone is yelling. For me, as a sensitive soul, it also had a more sinister effect as it made me hyper sensitive to loud noises.

One of the problems I encounter often in classrooms that are out of control, is a teacher using loudness as a way to gain control only further increasing the decibels and chaos. Children do not listen to yelling. They can’t hear the message through the loss of control, they simply see an adult who is out of control and it reduces both their respect and compliance. It also has a more sinister affect as it can re-traumatize certain students and reemphasizes to others that adults are not to be respected or trusted. They are not worthy of listening too.

I advise teachers all the time not to go louder but rather quieter, so that the students need to strain to hear or to say nothing all but a simple warning in a non- confrontational, calm tone. “If you are going to waste teaching time I’m afraid I will have to waste gym time.” Then quietly wait and follow through with how many minutes were wasted. You don’t need to do it often. Once, however, you have entered into loudness, screaming and raging you have already lost.

What does raging teach?

  • Avoidance

  • Fear

  • Distrust

  • A poor problem solving model

  • Disrespect

  • A poor self-regulation problem

  • Intolerance

  • Lack of judgment

With teachers or parents, if you want a child’s respect, trust and compliance then give them a reason to respect, trust, and comply and as we know in behaviour, compliance can look many ways. It is simple to build strong, cooperative relationships with children no matter their background.

I offer these insights as a survivor and also as a soul who has had to work hard to learn the skills that were not taught to me so that I did not perpetrate my past upon my own amazing, now grown, children.

So how do we do this?

  • Start by working on yourself and your own self-regulation issues - understand your history. Remember what it was like to be a child.

  • Have discussions rather than yelling matches or arguments.

  • Listen to them without an agenda.

  • Never offer a blanket, “no”, explain, offer options, allow input and offer alternatives.

  • Care enough to converse.

  • Talk to, not at.

  • Start your dialogues with a positive. “I see you really want…”

  • If you will feel frustrated, walk away.

  • Have distinct rules, guidelines, and consequences that make sense.

  • Always follow through on a promise or a consequence.

  • Consequences should be natural to the transgression and make sense.

  • Don’t yell and argue then give in.

  • Respect their thoughts and ask them to respect yours.

  • View them as individuals with ideas and gifts of their own.

  • Teach them problem solving and self-regulation by modeling those skills.

  • Teach them to honour and respect each other and those who do have authority over them.

  • Teach and model the sharing of ideas and the meaning of cooperation and teamwork.

  • Provide them with opportunities to shine.

  • Help them develop passions.

  • Spend family time regularly; let them see you enjoy their company.

  • Teach and model social skills.

  • If they need support, seek it out.

  • A family is a team.

  • A classroom is a team.

Remind yourself every day that we are raising and teaching the future. We are raising humanity. Every single thing we do matters to them, to us and to the future of our society.

For more support visit the rest of our Solving Behaviour site.

Check out our books - Adventures in Behaviour Series -

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