Ever experienced this common scenario?
You’re on the couch, reading a magazine. Or you’re in the middle of making dinner. Either way, you’re busy and don’t want to stop what you’re doing.
Meanwhile, across the room, your child is doing something you’d rather he not be doing.
You don’t want to stop what you’re doing, so you yell instructions to your child from across the room.
Your child doesn’t respond. He continues with what he was doing.
You feel frustrated. Now you have to stop what you are doing and go help your child to stop the behavior. You might feel angry and disrespected because your child didn’t listen.
Meanwhile, your child was so involved in what he was doing, that he didn’t really register what you yelled from across the room. Yes, he knows you yelled something at him. He may even be feeling disrespected and irritated at being yelled at, activating his instinctive counterwill.
Then again, because children’s brains work differently and more slowly than ours, he may not even have finished processing the content of your message yet, as he must before he can begin to respond.
A third possibility is that, after living in a household where this scenario is repeated many times a day, he knows your action point won’t arrive until you actually come across the room. To him, your yell is a warning shot and he can keep doing what he is doing until you actively intervene.
As you can see and have likely experienced for yourself, yelling from across the room at a child is an exercise in frustration for both of you.
The Eye to Eye tool card reminds us that respectful communication involves approaching a person closely enough to see their eyes before you begin to speak.
With very young children, it is even more helpful to get down onto their level and touch them on the shoulder before speaking.
Parenting involves many sacrifices. It can be difficult to make the choice to stop what we are doing in order to approach our children this way, but it is worth it. We are the ones with maturity and the greater ability to stop ourselves. It is our responsibility to do that so that we can effectively help our children stop themselves from unwanted, unkind or dangerous behavior and teach them what TO do instead.
So say tonight, you’re making dinner and your child is once again across the room, doing something you’d rather he not do.
Take a deep breath. Acknowledge to yourself that you’d rather not have to stop making dinner, and then make the choice to stop. Turn off the fire if necessary.
Go to your child. Get down to his level and touch him on the shoulder before you speak. Make eye contact.
When you do speak, notice how you naturally speak more softly, more respectfully when you can see his eyes.
Then, state the boundary, provide the correction and redirect him to a different activity.
Perhaps the best redirection of all is to involve him in helping you make dinner!