From our last two posts, we can begin to teach our kids that asking for and accepting help are actual key skills in learning to advocate for their own learning. But parents often want to know what to do when their child resists asking for help or refuses help when it is offered. Here are a few concepts to consider when working with your child on accepting help in order to be able to help him/herself well.
What do I do when my child resists help?
First, we have to decide if the behavior is more typical reluctance, informative resistance, or patterned defiance. Let’s start with these simple definitions.
From a psychological standpoint, all actions are functions of emotional states, especially if they are less conscious.These behaviors in children are all active forms of communicating “NO.” So first ask yourself what emotions are most prevalent in your child’s NO.’ Then ask yourself what function is the NO serving. You may have to read between the lines and guesstimate what your child’s nonverbals are saying. Here are some examples.
Reluctance is an unwillingness or disinclination to do something–it relates to feeling hesitant or timid.
Example 1: Your child shrinks away at drop-off, and says “No, I don’t want to go.” [This is Reluctance–The underlying communication is I’m scared and feeling unsure or hesitant.]
For Reluctance, we try to address the worry and hesitation so that our child is more soothed and can use his skills to calm and move forward with the expectation. When it comes to helping our child accept help easier in this circumstance, we will need to focus our attention on soothing a child’s worry and uncertainty in order to help him/her feel calm enough to be able to speak up or feel open to another person’s helping efforts.
Resistance is the refusal to accept or comply with something, which may relate to opposition, yet could signal an aversion of lack of acceptance.
Example 2: Your child avoids doing his/her math homework by jumping around and acting silly. She/He makes jokes and distracts. He says with his behavior, No way, not doing it now. Not ready. [This is Resistance and could point to a need that isn’t being met. He isn’t accepting the expectation for homework time. There could be an unmet need there in his body, his environment, his focus, etc.] A parent who is trying to get his/her child to accept help in this instance might offer choices around what strategies would calm the child’s body (unmet need) before offering a suggestion or help. For example, “Hey, I notice your body is wiggly. You can either bounce on the bouncy ball for 5 minutes or do 5 minutes of jokes with me before we start. Which one do you choose?.
For Resistance, it is best to try to understand what the child is communicating underneath their refusal. Kids are often less aware of their reasons for refusing when they are resistant. You can either try a quiet 2-way conversation with your child to try to discover what the underlying feelings and thoughts are. Or, if your child doesn’t know and can’t engage in a conversation with you, you can guesstimate on your own and try to lean into the resistance to shift your child’s behavior. It is similar to when you were walking with your toddler somewhere and they wanted to go in one direction and you needed to go in the other. If you stop pulling and walk with them a few steps, then you can often redirect them on your path. Helping a child who is resistant in this instance would require labeling the unmet need, giving a clear choice, and then asking for feedback once the child has reset. Then (hopefully) your child will receive your offer for help better than when he was reacting to something he didn’t understand.
None of this easy, and most of us don’t have time for all these nuanced interactions. Yet, pick and choose when you do have time and energy and see if these strategies make a difference in teaching your child that accepting help is part of being independent.
Lastly, Defiance is bold disobedience and shows up in children as angry, irritable or complex behaviors.
Example 3: Your child often refuses to go to camps that you sign him up for. He has meltdowns in the mornings about the one thing that upset him, loses it, and will not get in the car. Later you find out that he was worried about a new expectation from camp and was confused about what was required of him. He does better attending the next day, yet you know there will be another incident like this again.[This behavior signals Defiance because it is complicated, patterned and filled with lots of anger.]
For Defiance, it is a bit harder. Don’t get me wrong–all kids show some level of defiance as they grow strong personalities and minds. It is not a sign that your kid is bad. It does signal that your child may need different ways to manage and communicate their angry, confused feelings. It could also signal that there are some untreated issues that are driving the defiance (i.,e ADHD, depression, learning issues, etc.). Defiant behavior is often a patterned or learned way of coping. Therefore, it requires more work. As a parent in this situation, it is often good to let your child know that you know they are angry (i.e hurt, upset, feeling out of control), yet you are still committed to helping them, and that you will seek help for them when they can’t. Good words to use here are, I know you might not know how to help yourself. Yet, I’m here and willing to help you. I can also ask for more help when we need it.
In sum, self advocacy skills are both taught and learned over time. So don’t worry about getting it absolutely perfect! You will get plenty of opportunities to practice this with your kids:))!