This phrase was brought to my attention while reading this book. I highly recommend it as a book on how to shepherd your child’s heart, not just try to make them be “obedient.” Post contains affiliate links.
Other helpful phrases include:
Your son receives a nice gift from a relative on his birthday. And he says nothing.
You turn to him and say, “Can you say thank you?”
He gives a blank stare and says nothing…
You repeat, “Say thank you, please, let’s be polite.”
No response. You turn red. He remains calm in the face of your embarrassment.
The giver of the gift is also uncomfortable because you’ve chosen this time to enforce a manners lesson.
But there’s a better way…
Instead of getting into a power struggle in front of another person, embarrassing them, shaming your child, and making yourself look silly, use this phrase.
“We’re working on it”
This implies that you know the polite thing to do, it doesn’t ask the other person to standby while you try to force your child to say something. And it gives you a teaching opportunity to address later.
It gives your child a chance
If you’re trying to force your child to do something, the most common reaction will usually be the complete opposite of your command. This is called counter will.
Counter will is the instinctive reaction of a child to resist being controlled. If they sense you are backing them into a corner, their instinctive response will be to avoid giving you want you want.
While inconvenient in the moment, this can actually be a great thing. It means your child has a will of their own. Still, it’s annoying. However, by using “we’re working on it” you are taking the pressure off the situation. You’re giving your child have a chance to do what is expected with dignity and without the shame of you standing over them pointing a finger.
It gives opportunity to practice at home
My son started refusing to say hello or thank you to others. While it felt rude to me, I know he wasn’t trying to be rude. He was just nervous. After a few times of activating his counter will, I wizened up. I started practicing situations at home he was likely to encounter in public. I practiced greeting adults, saying thank you for a gift, and thank you for a compliment.
While practicing with him I could tell he didn’t fully understand what I expected him to do. After a few practices before getting into the car, going to church or meeting up with family, he got it! Now, when we practice it’s a quick refresher and he’s he’s much better at responding, though he is still nervous.
It gets to the heart of the matter
Instead of focusing on what they’re supposed to say or do in the moment, by saying “we’re working on it” you’re creating a teaching opportunity. When I was able to explain – away from the eyes of others – why it’s important we say “thank you” my son understood. He doesn’t have to hug and kiss strangers, but he does need to respond when spoken to.
Not in front of others, not in a way that shames or embarrasses your child, but at home I have conversations with the kids explaining why it’s important we thank people. What gratitude really means. Or why it’s polite to answer questions when asked. And eye contact. These are lessons best taught in a non-pressurized environment.
It shows your child you won’t flip out
There’s a temptation to blow up any situation bigger than it is. We mothers often lose grip on our emotions. Children don’t inherently understand many things and, in the moment, it’s usually better to give them the benefit of the doubt. Public shaming definitely doesn’t work, and now that you know about counterwill, you’ll see that approach isn’t very fruitful.
There’s a difference between childishness and obstinence, and before we make a big deal about something we need to be doing adequate preparation and training at home. So unless your child habitually disobeys, defies, and actually puts some attitude behind it just keep pressing onward.
So to recap here are some situations in which you could use “we’re working on it”:
- When a child doesn’t respond politely.
- When asked by a stranger or other person to do something they don’t know how to do or don’t want to do.
- When given the look because of your child’s inappropriate behavior or loud voice.
- If a teacher relays to you your child’s bad behavior in front of your child.
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