The Code Breaker

Celebrate Southern Africa

By Eloise Grobbelaar

“It is what it is, but it will become what you make of it.” –  Abraham Lincoln

There may be times when you find yourself in a situation where your kids are just not listening anymore! This last week, my husband and I suddenly found ourselves moaning, reprimanding and nagging our kids – THE WHOLE TIME !  It was happening at home, at our friends’ house, walking back from school, sitting in a café, you name it, it was happening almost constantly and resulted in quite a lot of unhappiness.  At this point I was seriously considering finding the biggest wooden spoon and writing: ‘Moeg Gepraat’ on it in big red letters with my Sharpie!  However, we’re playing the long game here and it was clearly time for us as a family to get back to basics. 

Obedience vs Responsibility:

It feels wonderful when our children follow our directions immediately, but actually obedience only teaches kids to ‘accept and do’. We want to go further, we want to teach our children ‘The Why’.  We want them to think about, and reflect on situations, adapt their ideas and actions, resulting in them becoming more respectful and more responsible.  It is imperative that we hold our children accountable.  Josh Shipp says: “If we don’t draw the line for our children, then Life will.”

All behaviour is a form of communication, which means that if my child is misbehaving , it is most probably to communicate that one of their basic needs (Belonging & Significance) are either unmet or perceived to be unmet.  If I can identify which belief (mistaken or true) lies behind their misbehaviours, I can decide on the most effective action to help my child achieve that true sense of belonging and significance instead of simply reacting to the behaviours, which is often why they keep popping up over and over again!

Find the Clues:

We often look at the child’s behaviour to figure out what’s going on, but actually our first clue is to zone in on how the behaviours make us feel.  I was definitely experiencing different emotions from my son and from my daughter:  my daughter’s behaviours were leaving me feeling irritated, whilst my son’s behaviours were leaving me feeling angry!  This is because their behaviours came from two different beliefs. 

If you are feeling annoyed, irritated, worried or guilty and find yourself responding by giving lots of reminders and coaxing them along, your child’s belief might be: “I only matter when you’re busy with me.” That was the case with my daughter. She felt that she was only important to me when I was giving her my direct attention.  The problem is that even if I give her lots of little bits of attention, because I’m not addressing the actual issue, the process will just keep reoccurring.

If you are feeling provoked, challenged, threatened or defeated, and respond by either jumping right into those power-struggles, or simply just giving in, guess what, the actual issue has still not been resolved –  the belief of “I only matter when I have some power and control).  My son is definitely going through a phase where he needs to feel more empowered!

What’s the plan, Stan!?

There are three really great strategies, that will address both of the mistaken beliefs mentioned above:

Spend regular time slots with your children.  This can be as long or short as is do-able for you – even 10 minutes a day will make a difference!  By allowing your child to have complete control over what you do in those 10 minutes and making sure that there are no other distractions around (e.g. your mobile phone!), you are meeting your child’s needs for belonging and significance in a powerful way.

Set up schedules and routines with the help of your children – it is very important that they are involved and on-board.  Stick it up where it will be seen, used and referred to.  Instead of having to coax and nag your child all the way through the morning routine, you simply ask: “What’s next on the routine chart?”  Instead of getting into battles over teeth brushing, you can ask: “How long does the chart say you have to brush your teeth?”  If your child is having difficulty with a specific part of a routine (e.g. putting on school tights or getting a school bag ready), practise it over weekends or break it down into smaller steps if needed.

Regular family meetings allow all family members to add their concerns or grievances to the agenda and is perfect to establish routines and family schedules.  If needed, the meeting can take on a ‘problem-solving’ format which allows for everyone to feel like they are important and part of the ‘team’.  In our meetings, we often say things like:

– Ok, I can see you are not happy with this or struggling with that. The big picture is…

-However, you don’t have to do it in a specific order or at a specific time, as long as it gets done by…. 

-Let’s negotiate how it can be done and find a way that we are all happy with.

This approach allows for our children to develop powerful skills to negotiate and problem-solve, which in turn will allow them to get their needs met throughout their adult lives!


It is really tempting to find quick, short-term solutions, as we are so busy and need to get so many things done!  The problem is that these short-term solutions very rarely teach children life skills.  If we want to raise strong, confident and resilient children, they need to be able to see the big picture, put themselves into others’ shoes and find win:win solutions to benefit not only themselves.  It’s not the easy route, but as Uncle Ben once said to Spiderman: “With great power, comes great responsibility!”

Eloise is a Certified Parent Educator, Relax Kids Coach and Certified MHFA. You can find out more about the work she does on her website: Growth & Grit – WholeHearted Parenting

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