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children not listening

Why does it seem like your child not listening is so frequent—especially when you've made small request to get dressed or ready for bed? Why do school-age kids seem to resist directions and expectations when homework needs to get done? Why do some teens oppose and rail against rules and limits around technology use, driving them to push back at parents? Your child not listening can ignite parental frustration and persistence, but it's important to remember that their decisions to resist are innate.

Kids come with an instinct to resist and oppose, or do the opposite of what they are told. But the act of not listening isn't news to parents or teachers. What may be surprising is that resistance can stem from the counterwill instinct that is innate to all humans.

What is counterwill and why is it important?

The term “counterwill" was first coined in the German language by Otto Rank, a Viennese psychoanalyst and student of Freud's. This construct was further developed by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, using the lenses of attachment and development. The term refers to the instinct to resist, counter and oppose when you feel controlled or coerced. You can feel it arise inside of you when someone tells you want to think, do or feel. This isn't a mistake or a flaw in human nature, and, like all instincts, serves an important function. The challenge for parents is that immaturity makes a child more prone to expressions of resistance.

Counterwill is an innate response designed to protect the self when feeling coerced or when facing separation. Children are designed to be directed by people they are attached to–which makes them prone to resist people who they are not connected to. The counterwill instinct is also important in helping pave the way for separate functioning and becoming a unique self. Part of figuring out who you are involves placing a moratorium on other people's views, agenda's, wants and wishes. When other people's voices are louder than your own, the counterwill instinct helps to create some space through resistance so that you can develop your own perspective.

The more responsible a parent feels to lead a child and to care for them, the more provocative acts of resistance and defiance can seem. It is sometimes challenging for parents not to react out of their own counterwill instinct when their children are locked into resistance.

The challenge is not to take resistance personally and even expect it.

The challenge is to remain in the caretaker position and lead through the counterwill storm. Some of the strategies below require maturity in the parent and the capacity to see the big picture. It is relationship that opens a child's heart to being influenced by us and serves to create the ideal conditions for development.

So what are you supposed to do when your young child refuses to get dressed, or when your child refuses to do homework or obey technology rules?

1. Focus on connection first.

What makes a child amenable to following a parent is connection. Before we direct them, we need to get into relationship by collecting them–that is, catching their eyes, getting a smile, focusing on what they are attending to–all before proceeding with our requests. If we need to talk about something that isn't working, like homework time, then it is best to collect them first to make them amenable to influence.

2. Reduce coercion when directing.

Sometimes when we make requests of our kids we are talking in a coercive manner to counter their resistance before it begins. Statements like, “You have to…" or “You must…" or “You need to…" all serve to raise the counterwill instinct. Consequences are also commonly used to get a child to comply, with statements such as, “You need to do this, or else," which only exacerbates a child's resistance.

3. Press pause, side-step and revisit the issue when in better attachment.

If you are locked into a counterwill battle with a child, then it is often better to take a tactical retreat to prevent wounding to the relationship and to avoid using force to get a child to capitulate to your demands. It is also important to maintain an alpha position in doing so. For example, “I'm going to give you some time to think about this and I will be back to talk," or “I've decided this is not a good time to address this issue."

4. Child not listening? Make some room for their own ideas and initiative.

If a child is old enough to get dressed or organize their homework, then perhaps it is time to put them in charge of these things? If they are eager to have their own mind and exert their own wishes and wants, then carving some spaces and turning over age-appropriate tasks to them may be a helpful strategy. The types of activities that you would not want to turn over to them would include anything to do with their caretaking such as food or who they spend time with.

5. Make amends when needed.

If our reactions to a child's counterwill have created distance in the relationship, then giving it time and returning to the child to make amends may be necessary. It can be simply done with an apology and an indication that you wish things would have gone better in the discussion.

While our children may claim, “You're not the boss of me," we don't have to take it to heart or react to it. We just need to lead through the counterwill storm, knowing we are their best bet and that they should feel safe and secure in our care. It is OK for our kids to have their own minds, but this doesn't mean they will always get their own way.

One day the child will be the “boss" of him or herself and until our job is done, we need to make some room for them to flex their wings, but not let go of our caretaking responsibilities.

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Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

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Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

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Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

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Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

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This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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