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Why kids do what we do, not what we say

Why kids do what we do, not what we say, and why yelling or screaming at your kids will backfire in the long-term.

Yesterday I sat and watched my 4 year old daughter play with her favorite stuffed bear.

Now her favorite stuffed bear is a panda called Stinky Bear. This panda bear is old. It is covered in patches, the eyes are scratched and dull, and we are constantly in fear of it falling apart and breaking her heart.

My daughter was using an old cardboard box to build a kitchen for her and her bear. Then she cut out little shapes and drew on them to create food for her bear.

"You'll love these bamboo hamburgers," she told her stuffed bear (because panda's love bamboo).

"No, I want pizza," the bear replied (my daughter, while speaking in a very high voice).

"Ok, let's make some bamboo pizza," my daughter said as she started to cut out more cardboard shapes.

Then she looked up, frowning slightly.

"Wait a minute! You aren't old enough to be in the kitchen. You'll have to wait outside," she told her bear, before taking her and placing her outside.

I realized that I use almost those exact words every day to get my kids to stay out of the kitchen.

But hearing them from my daughter, chiding her poor stuffed bear, reminded me that kids often learn best by modelling what we as adults do.

Nathan Wallis, a neuroscience educator, said the following when we interviewed him for our book How To Get Kids To Listen:

You’ve already got a frontal cortex, whereas they have to develop theirs through modeling from you. So, getting angry and screaming at our kids, or just standing over them, might scare them and have a short-term positive reaction for the parent, as in compliance, but it’s just going to be modeling an aroused brainstem, and they’re not going to get good outcomes long-term.

Nathan Wallis

The thing is, our children's brains physically develop by watching us, and modelling what we do. They do what we do, not what we say.

So the calmer you can be, the calmer your kids will be.

But, of course, staying calm with someone that knows exactly how to upset you is not easy.

In the interview with Nathan Wallis, he shares how to stay calm when your kids get upset, especially when they do the things that trigger you most.

Nathan also explains why it is better to reflect back your child's emotions, and validate what they are feeling, instead of trying to comfort them when they are upset.

You can find the full interview with Nathan Wallis - Why kids will listen to you if you listen to them - in our ebook How To Get Kids To Listen, available for free download here.