The answer is, actually, quite simple — very often, children are not able to listen to us because what we are asking from them is in conflict with what their brain is telling them to do. Let us take a few examples. Your threeyear-old comes into the kitchen and sees you mixing the dosa batter. Her hands are dirty, and before you can stop her, she has put her hands into the batter.
You say, ‘Oh no! Why don’t you listen? How many times have I told you not to do this?’ You wonder why she did not listen. It’s because her brain was telling her, ‘What is this interesting thing your Amma is mixing? Find out about it... touch it and feel it. Is hot or cold? Rough or smooth?’ Her brain is propelling her to discover the world and she is doing it for her own learning.
Another example - Your seven-year-old is bouncing a ball against the wall and it’s really bothering you. You keep saying stop it but he does not listen. His brain is saying to him, ‘Your body needs movement. Keep moving. That is what will calm your brain.’
What about your teenager who wants to be with her friends all the time? Her brain is going through changes and telling her that she has to go out into the world and learn to depend on her peers more than on her parents.
Her brain is literally pushing her towards this. With all this going on in their brains, it’s hard for children to comply with what we ask of them. And yet, there are things we do expect from them, so what can we do?
Give our children messages which allow them to meet their needs and feel understood while setting clear limits. The messages we give need to support children’s brain development rather than create a conflict within them.
Every time you make a request of your child, pause and think about what you want him or her to do? Think about whether what you are asking is going against her inner drive or what his brain is directing him to do? Could my child actually be learning something from this behaviour and if so could I allow or support it?
‘After you wash your hands, you can feel this dosai batter.’ ‘What about bouncing the ball in a place where no one is disturbed by the noise?’ ‘Would you like to invite your friends over for lunch?’ ‘I cannot allow you to jump on the sofa as it is dangerous, but you can jump on the mattress on the floor.’ ‘I know you want to choose your own clothes to wear. How about you select from these three?’
Brain science indicates that children don’t refuse to obey us just because they want to trouble us or be difficult. They are not deliberately trying to drive us insane! We can blame it on their brains which are pushing them in other directions. Their inquisitive brain is driving them to touch, feel, taste, and explore these things, in order to learn about the world.
With every such exploration, new connections are being made in their brain. They are not able to listen to us because their brain is urgently telling them, ‘Find out more!’ Knowing about the brain and the changes that take place in every stage of their life, is important information for every parent so we can understand our children better and support them in their development.
The author is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more, look us up on www.parentingmatters.in