What to Do When a Kid Doesn’t Want to Go?

Does your child not want to do what you want him to? As the Director of Early Childhood Ministries for Grace Point Church, sometimes I see children on Sundays who don’t want to leave Mom to enter the classroom. While our Volunteer Caregiver Team embodies our core values of being Safe, Fun, Jesus-Centered, and Parent-Equipping, this situation can get challenging for caregivers and moms.

Here are three ideas to help you with this situation:

1. Recognize how YOU feel (without judging).

Is a child’s reluctance to follow your directions stirring up some emotion inside of you? You may not realize it, but it’s 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 run into your arms with reckless abandon? After all, YOU know that you are safe and fun, why doesn’t this child?!
  • Do you feel like, “I hear you, kid. I don’t want to be here, either! (Hey, some days are like that – there’s no judgement here)!
  • Do you think, “Come ON you KNOW this is what we do here all the time (insert eye-roll here)!”
  • Do you feel like 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.You can’t begin to feel calm, peaceful, or confident until you first know WHAT you are actually feeling! So, take a deep breath….and another…and another. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now, 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.

SO OFTEN we try to minimize the child’s feelings by saying things like: “Oh – you’re OK! It’s not that big of a deal. Just 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 they can act out on those feelings by hurting themselves or others, but 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 😉.

Now that you have identified your feelings, have breathed and prayed for God to give you His eyes for this child, you can empathize with them by saying out loud one of these things:

  • “This is hard. You wish you could stay with Mom and you can’t.”
  • “This is hard. You wanted to keep playing with that toy and it’s time to stop.”
  • “This is hard. 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!

If you have children, you know how they can sometimes (most times?) nag you over and over and over and over and over (well, you get the point!) again?

It may go 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.”

Child: “PLLLEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSEE?????”

Mom: “NO! I said no! You can’t have a cookie!”

Child: “Mommy, please? Please pretty please?”

Mom (trying to ignore but feeling angry):

Child: “Mommy? I love you!”

Mom: “I love you, too.”

Child: “Can I have a cookie?”

Mom (who has been trying to make dinner and a shopping list and 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 positive 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. Breathe, pray and focus on what you WANT her TO do (Reframe your thinking from: “I want her to stop running around!” to “I want her to sit here.” )
  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 – I know you can!
  4. If you need to walk away because you are starting to lose your cool, that’s all right! 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 the child, smiling, and touching): “I hear you 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!

Connect Point Moms helps 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, helpful parenting videos, find Kate Connects on YouTube or join our Facebook group to find encouraging supportive moms struggling through it all together!


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