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I have a very independent, intelligent Kindergartner (an only child) who chooses not to follow directions in class and at home. When I ask her to stop doing something she has to do it one more time before she stops. Her teacher has told me that when she asks the class to stop one activity to go to another, my daughter will not stop the activity she continues to do it until the teacher has to say something to her. Another example is that when they are supposed to sit on the rug in class my daughter chooses to lay down instead. When I give her directions (I make sure that we are looking in each others eyes) I often ask her to repeat back to me the directions that I have given her, she can only repeat part of what I have told her and sometimes none at all. I give her time-outs in her room for not following directions and at school she has to sit in a chair for time-out.

Thank you for any suggestions that you might be able to give.



Dear Janna,

Parenting sometimes is called an "art." In your query, I am reminded that parenting is also a "mystery" that resembles an old family-favorite game, Clue! Children's misbehavior gives us CLUES to what children need and why they misbehave to meet those needs (Positive Discipline Books all teach the Mistaken Goal Chart - the scope of which I don't have room to teach here, but would be VERY helpful to understanding why your child does what she does!). The other thing that parenting the "Positive Discipline Way" helped me to see is that when I parent (or grand-parent!) using both firmness and kindness, I discard authoritarian ways without losing my authority. This was a MAJOR shift for me both cognitively and behaviorally!

I hope my response to your important question will help you find the clues to helping your child become a better listener ... and doer!

It is GREAT that you stop and look in your daughter's eyes, and ask her to repeat what you've said - that's the first thing I always recommend to teachers or parents of young children - the fact that she has trouble repeating any or some of what you say brings me to two questions - I'll ask these, and then move on to some parenting tools that may help encourage your daughter to listen.

Two questions floated to the top of my thinking about how to respond to your question.

1. Has your daughter had a hearing check and a physical lately?

Sometimes, hearing difficulties are more intricate than just taking in the sounds. We also must be capable of processing what we hear. Sometimes, children have hearing problems who have had frequent ear infections/allergies or who accumulate ear wax, or mild learning difficulties that stem from an inability to process in the brain what is heard in the ear.

You may have already answered my question with a trip to the Dr. and that's great! If you haven't, I'd suggest STARTING there - or also check with your elementary school to see if they do hearing tests free - usually school districts have an area-wide group of specialists who test hearing, speech, and language difficulties early on to catch these possible hindrances to school performance.

Also, some very intelligent, capable young children process information in their brain differently and need some help learning how to compensate for that so that they can be their best at learning. Schools are often set up for one type of learner, and Daniel Goleman's research on other types of intelligence may also unlock some key points for understanding a more holistic view of learning - and of reaching your child so that she understands what you, and the other adults in her life, are saying.

I mention these points because one of my children, at the age of four, also intelligent and capable, began an ignoring behavior every time I'd call his name or ask him to do something - I was sure he was being stubborn and independent, but followed through on my instinct to check out a physical cause for this "behavior-problem"with the Dr.- we discovered a rather major hearing loss due to excess fluid resulting from frequent ear infections that damaged his hearing at a time when he was learning important language (he had to go back and be taught certain sounds that he never learned according to the 'normal' time-line - one of these sounds was 'r' - which he pronounced as a W - and his name is Eric - this prompted us to seek speech therapy early - in K and 1st grade! - his speech is not impaired now - but may have been permanently altered, I am told, without early treatment.)

2. A second question is - are there other adults to whom your children listens, and DOES what is asked? Maybe the requests are too wordy (Positive Discipline suggests 10 or less words) or have too many steps, and she doesn't know where to begin. If there are other adults who can elicit a positive response, you might watch how they do it, and then model your requests after their success.

3. On to some other tools:

I have to smile here :) ... because, having taught young children for 30+ years, I know there are some very strong-willed kids who like the attention they get from NOT following the norm, and also the power they get from winning over an adult! These youngsters, though challenging now, are our future leaders, so it helps to nurture the qualities, without rewarding dis-respectful behavior!

In Positive Discipline A-Z, by Nelsen, Lott, and Glenn, there are several sections that are written about "defiant behavior" and "Listen, My Child Won't" Here is a quick summary of a couple major points:

  • Are you nagging, scolding, or lecturing without following through? stick to 10 words or less - say it once, and say, "I know you will get this done, because you will want to ____ next."(fill in the blank with what comes next - not a reward - this helps her know that some things happen before other things can happen - teaches natural consequences)
  • When your daughter talks to you, are you as respectful of what she has to say as if she were one of your adult friends? or do you nod, m-m-m-, without looking at her - children who are listened-to, listen to others, as a rule. Perhaps her teacher has too many kids to give her the 1/1 she is used to being your #1!
  • Give her choices, such as, "Would you like green beans, or yellow beans for supper tonight? You decide." It is important to say, "You decide," because if gives the child a sense of useful power. "Would you like to help set the table, or clear it? Choices help build the sense of personal power that all of us needs - every time you can, offer choices - even little ones. At school her choices will be limited due to sheer #s of kids, but at home you can say, "Do you want your milk in a glass, or in a coffee cup?" Then when there ARE NO CHOICES right now, you simply say, "I need you to cooperate right now and do this thing. Thanks for doing what Mommy asks. It sure is nice to have your cooperation, and then walk away a few steps without looking back, and say "I'm going to _____{get the keys] and I'll be _______ {in the garage]. I'm sure you can handle this by yourself - or offer to help with "Do you need my help, or can you do this by yourself?" Kids into power want to do it alone! Celebrate her positive answer before she even has a chance. If she says "no" - say, "Well, I can't make you do this, can I? I wish you had wanted to cooperate. We will have to try again later, and I'll bet you will be ready to cooperate then. This way, they GET it that you value them AND their cooperation more than their defiance. Do this when you are "practicing" cooperation - rather than on things that REALLY MATTER ... And most children want to please the adults they care about.
  • Be sure you have 'trained' her about how to do what you want. Ask her to show you the steps she takes to "clean her room, make her bed, get dressed, take a bath," etc. and make a picture book with her drawings about "Wendy's Work" - fill in her name - or you could take pictures of her doing these things (which gives her the attention she may seek in a positive way), develop them with doubles - and make a picture book this way. (the doubles are for your scrapbook!)
  • Use I-messages rather than a glaring eye-message! Say, When you ______ (don't do what Mommy/Teacher asks you to do), I feel ________ (disappointed, angry, hurt) because __________ (I have seen how well you can pick up your dirty clothes just yesterday before we went to the library - remind her of a recent success). I really wish ___________ (it was more important to you to say yes to me)

Janna - whatever combination of parenting tools you put together will help you at home - then they will likely transfer to the school environment. For setting up a Time-Out that Teaches Cooperation and Responsibility, you will REALLY enjoy Positive Time Out and 50 Other Ways to Avoid Power Struggles in Homes and Classrooms. Punitive Time-outs, though punishment is not your intention, only raise a child's need for positive attention and power - and grow resentment, retaliation, and rebellion when the child comes out of time-out - we have to use parenting/teaching tools that teach children and help them FEEL BETTER rather than worse, so that they WILL DO better, rather than worse! Positive Time-Out is a tool I still use for ME, and I'm a Grandma!

Staying in touch with her teacher is a good thing and give her your Positive Discipline books to read - maybe calling the main office at 1-800-456-7770 and scheduling a Positive Discipline in the Classroom for the teachers, or a Positive Discipline for Parents would be a good idea for your area so that teachers and parents are 'on the same page. The Positive Discipline tools of consistency and follow through are much easier to uphold when homes and school are setting up similar environments for teaching young children how to be capable, responsible, and contributing members of their communities.

Let me end my answer to your questions by assuring you that "not listening" is a very common misbehavior with young children - they want to please us, believe it or not, but we speak such different languages! Thanks for your question, and I know you will choose tools that strengthen your long-term relationship as parent-child/teacher-child rather than get her to 'listen-to___' in the short term. Breaking misbehavior takes time and patience; raising healthy, vibrant children is worth your learning and using the parenting skills that will best accomplish your goals. Asking the kinds of questions you ask, assure me of your successful parenting journey.

My best to you and your family,

Mary Hughes, Certified Positive Discipline Associate

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