Don't Make Me Repeat Myself - What You Need to Know About Getting Kids to Listen
Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Do you ever find yourself staring down at a tiny person, finger wagging, saying these exact words? Have you ever wondered if they make sense? Let's dive in.
1) Knowing is NOT the same as being capable of Doing.
We have to remember that our kid's brains are still growing and they won't be done until their mid-TWENTIES! Yep, roughly age 25! And I'm not just talking about amassing new skills and facts - I mean whole pieces of the brain and all of the functions that come with them, are unavailable to our small people because they simply haven't developed yet.
Most notably missing for our teenie tots - the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is the part that overrides the lizard brain so when you really want to smack your boss, you don't. Even though your lizard brain says to, your prefrontal cortex steps in and says "yeah, that's a terrible idea so I'm going to stop you, here think of all the potential consequences, there, now you're feeling calmer, at least calm enough to storm to your car and scream at your steering wheel instead. Sure, you do that, that's better."
Our kids miss out on this whole conversation! So when we say "stop hitting, I'm not telling you again," Their lizard brain says, "I'm mad, hit" and they do. The end. They can cognitively KNOW not to, but they can't stop it - YET! They need practice, which brings me to point 2.
2) If practice makes perfect (or at least promotes permanence) shouldn't we value the opportunity to repeat ourselves?
When our kids are working on connecting new neural pathways in their brain, they need lots of practice. I like to describe it like this, if you go on a hike once and veer off the established path, when you find yourself back on that trail you likely won't be able to remember where you veered off or what new path you took last time. However, if you go with a guide and together you veer off in the exact same spot many times over and over, you will wear a new trail and you will easily be able to spot it and take it every time even without your guide.
We are the guides, we have to take our kids down the unfamiliar path over and over until the new neural pathway is strong and reliable and they can find their way alone. Each time we repeat ourselves, we guide them down that path again.
3) If all parents repeat themselves, and all kids need repetition, why do we still see this as a problem?
The short answer: expectations. We have to align our expectations with our kids' development and trust that we ARE making progress even when it seems slow.
I invite you to change your expectation. When each opportunity (problem) presents itself, say "awesome, now I have the chance to go over this again to help make it permanent in your mind." How many times? Who knows. Each kid is different.
One more analogy to help - how long did it take your kid to walk? 8 months? 12? 16? Did you get mad at them that they wouldn't do as you said and walk (or NOT walk yet if you were on the 8-month side of things)? No, because you expected that they needed to stand up and fall down hundreds or thousands of times before they could fully master walking. (And I still fall UP the stairs sometimes!) The same applies to the skill of self-control. Kids need hundreds and thousands of failures at controlling their impulses before they can start to master it.
And for the record - they'll never be perfect. They'll be like you, doing the best they can, and messing up sometimes. If you're lucky, they'll hear your voice in their head,
"Ok, that went sideways, what can you do to make it better? What can you learn from this to help you do better next time?"
Turning each obstacle into an opportunity for themselves just like you did for them growing up. Way to go, mama!