When Your Kid Doesn’t Want to Go!

If you have – or work with – kids you know that sometimes your kid just doesn’t want to go or do what you want him to do. Sometimes, your kid doesn’t have to go if she doesn’t want to. But what about when she does have to go? Like when you have to go to work and he has to go to daycare? Or when you want to attend church and she needs to go to her room? As the Director of Early Childhood at Grace Point Church, sometimes I see children who don’t want to leave Mom or Dad to enter our rooms. They just don’t want to go! Our Volunteer Caregiver Team embodies our core values of being Safe, Fun, Jesus-Centered, and Parent-Equipping, but this situation can get challenging for both caregivers and parents.

Here are 3 helps for when a kid doesn’t want to go:

1. Recognize how YOU feel.

Is a child’s reluctance to follow your directions stirring up some emotion inside of you? It is important to take a moment to think about how you feel in those kinds of situations.

  • Do you:
    • See it as a personal affront if a child does not do what you want without a fuss? I mean, YOU know that what you want them to do is safe and fun, why don’t they?!
    • Feel like, “I hear you, kid. I don’t want to go, either.” (Hey, some days are like that – no judgement here)!
    • Think, “Come ON you KNOW this is what we do here all the time (insert eye-roll)!”
    • Believe you don’t have what it takes to calm or connect with this kid and help it be fun and safe for everyone else?

It’s CRUCIAL that you recognize YOUR feelings about this because you can only give what you have.

Did you know that you can’t begin to feel calm, peaceful, or confident until you first know WHAT you are actually feeling? Take a deep breath….and another…and another. How do you FEEL when these situations happens in your life?

Now that you have identified how you FEEL in this situation, here’s an acronym that may help.

  • QTIP:
    • Quit
    • Taking
    • It
    • Personally

If a child is having trouble following directions, it is usually NOT ABOUT YOU!

Remembering to “QTIP” when a child is having a hard time transitioning can absolutely help you stay relaxed and in the moment, focusing on what the child needs to help feel safe.

2. Empathize with the child and situation.

You may try to minimize the child’s feelings by saying things like:

  • “You’re OK! You’re fine.”
  • “It’s not that big of a deal.”
  • “Stop crying! You’re all right!”

But consider how YOU would feel if you were having a really bad day and your best friend said to you, “Oh suck it up! You’re fine!”

You probably wouldn’t feel very comforted or loved or safe, right? IT’S THE SAME WAY WITH KIDS! Kids – just like you – want to be assured that their feelings are OK, and that they are safe and loved. This does NOT mean that your kids can act out on those feelings by hurting themselves or others.

It DOES mean that you can take a few moments to connect with them by breathing, looking into their eyes, smiling, and touching them. This is known as the B.E.S.T. strategy.

First, identify your feelings. Then, breathe and pray for God to give you His eyes for this child. Finally, you can empathize by saying out loud one of these things:

  • “This is hard. You wish you could stay with Mom and you can’t.”
  • “Oh how difficult! You wanted to keep playing with that toy and it’s time to clean up.”
  • “What a bummer! You were hoping you would have different friends to play with today and you don’t.”

3. Offer two positive choices….over and over again!

You know how kids can sometimes (most times) nag you over and over and over and over and over (well, you get the point!) until they get what they want?

  • It may sound something like this:
    • Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
    • Mom: “No, it’s too close to dinner.”
    • Child: “But I’ll eat dinner! Can I have one?”
    • Mom: “No honey. It’s almost dinner.”
    • Mom: “NO! I said no! You can’t have a cookie!”
    • Child: “Mommy, please? Please pretty please?”
    • Mom tries to ignore but still feels annoyed):
    • Child: “Mommy? I love you!”
    • Mom: “I love you, too, honey.”
    • Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
    • Mom (who is working on dinner and a shopping list and trying to compose an email and is about to lose her mind): “FINE! TAKE ALL THE COOKIES AND JUST BE QUIET!!!!!!!!!!!”
    • Child: 😁 🍪 😋

Can you see how offering two choices over and over again is very likely going to be effective for children who certainly USE this relentless strategy themselves to get what they want?

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Stop, breathe, and pray. And then focus on what you WANT her TO do. This means reframing your thinking from: “I want her to stop running around!” to “I want her to sit down.”
  2. Offer two positive choices to meet this desire: “You have a choice: You can walk or hop to the next activity. Which is best for you?”
  3. If she resists, keep breathing and praying and repeat the same two choices. Again and again. And again. You can do this – you can!
  4. It’s OK if you need to walk away because you are starting to lose your cool! Just return and give the same choices until he chooses one. When you stay consistent in honoring them and not wavering on the two positive choices, they will soon learn that they can trust that you mean what you say.

  • By the way, if you find yourself in that “cookie” situation with your child, here’s how to do it differently:
    • Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
    • Mom: “No, it’s too close to dinner.”
    • Child: “But I’ll eat dinner! Can I have one?”
    • Mom (Breathing, getting eye-level with child, smiling, and touching): “You really wish you could have a cookie right now.”
    • Child: “I do! I really, really want one!”
    • Mom (Breathing and smiling and nodding): “It’s hard to wait until after dinner to have a cookie.”
    • Child: “It is! I want one now.”
    • Mom (Still breathing, etc): You can have a cookie after dinner. Right now, you can play with the blocks or the cars. Which works best for you?
    • Child: “But….I really want a cookie now.
    • Mom (nodding with understanding): “That’s hard. I understand. You already asked and I already answered. Right now, you can play with the blocks or the cars. Which works best for you?”
    • Child: “I guess the blocks….”

THIS exchange took about the SAME amount of time as the first one. Yet, your relationship is still connected, your child learned that you care about his desires (but that doesn’t mean he can have whatever he wants when he wants it), AND he was left with some sense of control over the situation as he had a choice he could make!

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Kate Fraiser is a Parent Coach with Connect Point Moms helping you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you’re in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them. For quick and helpful parenting videos, find her on InstagramYouTubeTikTokor Facebook.

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