Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Can't Get Through To Your Child?

"I've tried everything, but I just can't get through to this child!"

It's so frustrating when you can't get through to your child. And it also makes it almost impossible to parent well, since your child isn't open to your influence. 

Happily, children do look to us for love, protection, and guidance, as long as they feel warmly connected to us. As children develop, they naturally want to explore the world and learn for themselves. We can't control them -- we can never control another human being -- but as long as we have a good relationship with our child, we have influence.

So why would a child stop looking to their parent for guidance? Usually this happens when children begin to think we aren't listening, or we wouldn't understand, or we just don't care about what matters to them. 

That doesn't mean we've done something wrong. It might mean your child is strong-willed and an experiential learner, and they just want to do what they want, even if you don't like it. But still, in that case, they are willing to risk their relationship with you for what they want, and that's a sign that the relationship needs strengthening.

Bottom line: Our children shut us out when they think they can't get through to us. Why should they listen when they don't feel heard?

So if you want more influence with your child, the "cure" is to strengthen and sweeten your relationship. Or, as Stephen Covey famously said, "Seek first to understand."

That doesn't mean you just say yes to whatever your child wants. Mostly, the strength of your relationship depends on whether your child trusts you to understand their perspective, believe in them, and be on their side, no matter what. 

  • Are you willing to listen, to try to see things from your child's perspective? The child learns that he doesn't get everything he wants, but he gets a parent who understands, no matter what.

  • Can you set limits with empathy, meaning that you offer understanding of what she wants and why, even when you can't say yes? The child feels understood even when she doesn't get what she wants, so she accepts limits more readily.  

  • Are you looking for a win-win solution (or do you insist on being right, which by definition means someone else has to be wrong)? The child learns that in a relationship, we try to make it work for both people.

  • Are you able to tolerate your child's disappointment, sadness and anger (or do they need to hide their deepest upsets from you?) The child learns to accept her own emotions, which helps her learn to regulate them.

  • When you look at your child, do you see mostly positives, no matter what he's done wrong? The child learns to see himself as good, even when he makes mistakes -- which means he's more likely to "do good."

Our intention to understand is what helps our child feel safe enough to accept our guidance. None of us ever change except from a place of safety.

Of course, extending understanding isn't easy when you're upset. The key is to calm yourself and get clear on your positive intention before you open your mouth. Your child may not know what words are going through your mind, but he or she will always feel your intention.

Life with children can sometimes feel like a battle, but our children are never the enemy.  Yes, you are responsible for "teaching" your child to act right. But kids don't act right when we see them as "wrong." We need to hold onto a vision of our child's best self for our child to act as that self. If you can manage your own emotions, you can find the good will and emotionally generosity to see your child's perspective. 

That doesn't mean that you necessarily agree with their behavior, just that you see your child is struggling, and you want to help them feel better, so they can do better. And yes, you can do this even while you set limits on behavior.

Once your child feels you're on their side, rather than out to control them, everything can shift. Then, you may not even have to say a word to get your child to listen.


"The key to communication is not what we say, but rather the attitude that lies behind what we say... all of us are telepathically communicating all the time. Every moment, we are choosing to join or to separate, and the person to whom we're speaking feels what we have chosen, regardless of our words." -- M. Williamson

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