Consider your child to be a sponge. Sponges don't soak up some things and not other things. Sponges soak up any liquid it with which it comes into contact. Your words are the liquid to your child's sponge. When my daughter was six years old, she was showing attitude and I said, "Rachel, don't be smart!" And then I thought, do I really not want her to be smart? Thankfully, I caught the error in my words and corrected the situation.
When your child is hurting, give her words of comfort and understanding. Use active listening, or empathy, as a communication tool to zero in on what you think she is feeling. Active listening is the balm that soothes the pain of your emotionally hurting child. Don't give her solutions to her problem, as giving solutions conveys the message, you can't figure this out, so I'll do it for you. Such a hidden message conveys both emotional distance and dependency. Don't be critical of their efforts in a misguided mission to give them an educational experience. If you do this, they will be less likely to come to you in the future. Finally, don't minimize your child's efforts to fix the situation. Don't make it about you. It's about her, her feelings, and her efforts to come to terms with what's going on at that moment in her life. Active listening is the best communication tool to affirm, pace, and validate your child. What you say to your child matters. Choose your words wisely.
As parents, we are the leaders in our home. The Dominant Parent gets things done by fear, control, and manipulation. "Because I said so" is the only reason this parent knows. They barrel through the family getting their way and use anger to make others conform to their expectations. The Submissive Parent gets things done by doing it all themselves. "Please like me and be my friend" is their mantra. They are tidying, putting everything in its place, and asking "What can I do for you" ad nauseum. Children end up feeling entitled without consequence.
In Chapter Two of Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting I ask the question, Who's in Charge? As a Benevolent Despot, you are both the strong leader of your family and you exercise servanthood parenting. As despot, the buck stops with you. You make decisions. You direct. You delegate. Your leadership is welcomed because of your benevolence. You listen. You understand needs and feelings. You encourage. You include. House rules and chore lists are not demanded (Dominant). You don't do it all (Submissive). As a Benevolent Despot, you call family meetings and direct a cooperative effort. You understand and serve their needs and feelings.
Grow your children up in the ways of the Lord, so that when they are old they will not depart from Him (Prov. 22:6) Be a Benevolent Despot in your home.
Many parents tell me they don't do behavior management with their child because they don't believe in bribing them. Effective behavior management is not bribery. The more your child is involved in and invested in the system, the more he wants to do well and be rewarded for his efforts. In Chapter 2 of Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I offer a Good Kid Chart that helps your child track target behavior and receive daily and weekly rewards based on achieving those behaviors. Involve your child in creating these daily and weekly reward lists, as well as the consequence list. Linking daily and weekly rewards together keeps him involved in the process and helps him develop consistency over time in building his character. The first level of consequence is not getting the reward. Only go to the consequence list for egregious infractions. For example, if "Play nicely with your sister" is a target behavior and your child mocks her or puts her down, he doesn't get the daily reward for that target behavior. If he knocks her down and yells at her, he gets to choose from the consequence list, which he helped create. Such involved, interactive behavior management helps build character. Bribery simply keeps your child temporarily out of your hair, but with no lasting positive effect.