Gently Challenging

This is an approach I’ve learned through parenting. I know that what you show a child is what you get back – so shouting will teach a child to shout. I know that it’s very easy to accidentally condition a child – if bad behaviour gets them attention you might be encouraging them to play up. I don’t find hitting an acceptable solution, and it teaches violence. So what on earth do you do with a child who isn’t behaving themselves?

I’ve taken to asking questions. Why did you do that? Do you think that’s fair? How would that make you feel? Would you like it if we treated you that way? What is going to happen if we leave things the way you did it? Asking calmly and quietly, without offering apparent judgement requires my child to think about what he’s done and what the implications are. Usually when prompted to think, he can spot what the problem is without me having to explain. This works because it means he understands, and in understanding is much less likely to make exactly the same mistake again. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of him doing the same thing for it to sink in, but eventually it does. We get there, without anger, without tears or tantrums.

I hate shouting. Any loss of self control is a source of shame for me, and I find shouting offensive. I do not want to be the sort of person or shouts, or the sort of person who spends all their time telling someone else off. But being a parent can be a very frustrating, rage inducing sort of job. When it seems like nothing makes any odds, descent into rage is harder to avoid.

Gently challenging works for me and it works for James. I can’t remember the last time I felt any need to raise my voice with him. I can’t remember the last time he managed to push me into anything worse than irritation. He learns. Every time he makes a mistake and I challenge him over it, he learns, and he tries to do better. Facing the challenge, having to answer for himself and acknowledge the mistake, reason through what is awry and work out how to fix it, teaches him to be responsible and to take pride in doing better and finding solutions. I’ve got to say it; he’s a really lovely chap and most of the time, a pleasure to be with. He has his moments, plays up and tests boundaries – all things kids should do, but he has a fair idea of where to stop.

I think the key things here are challenging without anger and allowing the space to respond. I also think it’s an approach that would work just as well with other adults, any time there might be temptation to shout and storm. The problem with adults is that some of them view being challenged in this way as patronising… but that’s a whole other story.

4 thoughts on “Gently Challenging”

  1. Wonderful 🙂 how do other kids (and teachers) react to that then? And has he started asking questions when others are being daft?


  2. Ok I need some parenting advice then; Euan is at the boundary pushing stage and keeps slapping, headbutting, throwing things at me and the pets. None of it is awful but it is persistent, and I need to change his behaviour asap. How do you cope when the child is barely verbal?


  3. Greycat, his teachers love him, no idea how other kids relate to it.

    Cat, I found ‘would you like me to join in?’ quite productive. If there are things that are irritating and non-hazardous that you can do back, I’d suggest join in with the throwing in a not-fun way. You may only need to offer to join in a few times. For us, it was screaming. I only had to do it once. Works wonders with temper tantrums too. Pick a thing you can face joining in with and you can likely bluff him other times. Probably. Another option is to totally ignore him when he’s doing it – if there’s an attention seeking aspect to the headbutting and physical contact, treat him like he isn’t there until he stops, that can work. The other one is to inappropriately find things funny (works well on an angry child) – I got some mileage out of that one, but I didn’t find it easy.

    This is the hardest bit, once they get more verbal it gets so much easier. Tom says making the consequences very, very boring can also be effective. Good luck!


  4. Great ideas. Sadly, can’t apply it to an autistic child who’s not verbal and struggles to reason; I become a weekend step-mum in June and it’s going to be a challenge.


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