Tag Archive for parent child conflict

Children Misbehaving? Give Them a Seat

I remember it well. Days of rolling easy as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse, we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased.  The change was mysterious, a painstaking step off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.


  • Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
  • Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
  • Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
  • Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together. 

As you go through this process with your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T. and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in the future.

Avoid 5 Practices to Have a Successful Family Conflict

Yes, you can have a successful family conflict! Successful conflict increases mutual understanding and intimacy. It draws families closer together. Conflict also reveals ways to help your family grow stronger. Conflict can do this and more if we avoid five practices. If Pointing fingers at each otheryou let these five practices sneak into your family conflict, misunderstandings increase. Anger grows. Intimacy diminishes. Joy dwindles. What five practices interfere with a successful conflict? Let me share them here.

  • Mind-reading interferes with successful conflict. Mind reading occurs when one person assumes to know what the other person thinks or intends by their actions or words. A person who mind reads assumes to know the motives of the other person. Mind reading implies that “I know your thoughts, intents, and motives better than you know them yourself.” When a person practices mind reading, he passes up the opportunity to truly understand what the other person means, intends, and believes. He increases the chances of misunderstanding the other person’s motives. Instead of mind reading, ask questions. Seek to understand what the other person means and intends by their statement.
  • Labeling interferes with successful conflict. Labeling involves name-calling. It can be as subtle as “You’re irrational” or as direct as “You’re an idiot!” Labeling, name-calling, will obviously interferes with a successful conflict. Name-calling hurts. It arouses the other person’s defensiveness. It passes judgment on the other person. It implies the conflict cannot be successfully resolves since the other person is “an idiot,” a “jerk,” or…you fill in the blank. Instead of labeling and name-calling, practice kindness in the midst of conflict. Take the time to remember the other person’s positive qualities.
  • Blaming interferes with successful conflict. Sometimes people blame directly. “It’s your fault!” Sometimes we use a more subtle form of blaming, “You-tooing.” “I may have left the dishes out, but you….” “Well even if I did break the dish what does it matter? You have broken lots of dishes in the past!” By blaming we avoid responsibility. We avoid looking at our own contribution to the situation. We “pass the buck.” The person we have a conflict with is more likely to take responsibility for his role in the conflict if we willingly take responsibility for our role in the conflict. Instead of blaming, accept responsibility. Apologize as needed. Take the log out of your own eye and state what you will do differently to resolve this conflict.
  • kids arguing 5 and 6 years oldKitchen-sinking also interferes with successful conflict. Kitchen-sinking is throwing every past conflict and frustration into the sink when you are discussing one dirty dish. You’ve had the kitchen-sink experience. You and your spouse begin to argue about a single incident but, as the argument progresses, you both bring up “the time you forgot to put the gas in the car” or “the time you yelled at me for no reason” or “the time you went out with the guys instead of watching a movie with me” or…you get the idea. I’ve heard couples bring up things that happened 20 years ago when they begin to argue about a specific incident that occurred yesterday. Kitchen-sinking prevents you from resolving anything. Stop kitchen-sinking. Instead, deal with one incident at a time. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. So, once you resolve an incident put it to rest. No need to beat a dead horse. Resolve it and let it go.
  • Generalizing interferes with successful conflict. We generalize with words like “always” and “never.” “You never listen to me.” “You always get your way.” Such generalization increase defensiveness. The other person feels the need to “prove” the generalization wrong. The conflict becomes a surface battle of events rather than the deeper dialogue of resolving hurt feelings and emotional disconnection. Instead of making broad generalizations, stop to think of exceptions. Consider times that counter the generalization. Instead of making broad generalizations, deal with the incident at hand…no more, no less. It is not an issue of “always” or “never” but an issue of “today” and “this time.”

Avoiding these five practices will help you experience the true joys of a successful family conflict.

I’m Afraid to Discipline

I was speaking to a young father about parenting and discipline. He knew his children often misbehaved even when he was present; and, he wanted to learn how to “be a fun guy” while remaining an authority. As we spoke, he made a telling statement. “I have a Disobedient boyproblem being stern,” he said.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid my kids will get mad and not like me anymore. They need my love more than my discipline anyway, right?”

 

This young father verbalized something many parents believe and feel but fear to say. Discipline is hard work. It takes effort. It can easily arouse our fears and insecurities. Here are a couple of fears we might experience as we discipline our children.

  • The fear that our children will get mad at us and, as a result of that anger, our relationship with them will somehow be damaged.
  • The fear that our children will rebel even more because we have set a firm limit on certain behaviors.
  • The fear that our children will no longer like us and we will “lose them.”
  • The fear that our children will not recognize how much we love them.
  • The fear of experiencing our own emotional pain when we witness our children in distress and discomfort, even if discipline is deserved.

 

If we allow these fears to control our parenting, we have abdicated our parental authority and influence. We have relinquished our authority to guide our children. We have renounced our influence to help our children learn what is right and wrong. We have abandoned our children to make life decisions for which they lack sufficient experience and knowledge. We vacated our role as an authority to constrain their dangerous behaviors and protect them from negative influences. We have lost the opportunity to help our children struggle with life values and beliefs. We have surrendered, bailed out, left our children high and dry with little to no protection or guidance.  Our children will ultimately realize that vacuum that we have left unfilled and seek out a way to fill it with the opinions and beliefs of peers, other adults who may hold different values than we do, or misguided behaviors that will make them feel accepted by someone. Ultimately, they recognize our fear to discipline as a lack of love.

 

A loving parent does discipline. Loving parents risk their children’s anger and endure personal discomfort in order to guide them toward values that can create a healthy and happy future. When you think about it, really good parents love their children too much to not offer stern discipline when necessary. After all,…

  • Stern discipline is one part of our expression of love.
  • Stern discipline protects our children and teaches them to protect themselves.
  • Stern discipline helps our children determine and internalize personal values and beliefs that can bring true happiness. We, as parents, become the sounding board, the “other side of the debate,” during their internal struggle to determine personal values and beliefs.
  • Stern discipline strengthens our relationship with our children. It allows them to see us as authentic people of integrity. They will observe our struggle to discipline while we continue to stand for what we believe is right behavior and interactions. And, our children will respect us for that.

 

Without stern discipline, I am afraid our children will wander down the path to self-destruction, addiction, disrespect, and arrogant opposition to authority. Of course stern discipline must be balanced with love and acceptance, listening and understanding, grace and respect. Nonetheless, without stern discipline, our love has fallen short…and the consequences are dire.

Finish Your Family Business

“Shave and a haircut, two….” I hate it when things are left unfinished. Anything left unfinished sticks with us; we long for someone to finish it. “A, B, C, D, E, F….” Feel that desire to finish Unfinished bridgeit? You may have already finished both of these unfinished phrases already. Chances are you will finish each of the following phrases before you can even stop yourself:

  • “Think outside the ….”
  • “Subway, Eat….”
  • “Tomorrow, tomorrow. I’ll love you….”
  • “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for….”
  • “Toto, we’re not in….”
  • “Elementary, my dear….”

 

We could list more, but I need to finish this blog. Unfinished business sticks in our craw; it keeps us on edge. Unfinished things are not forgotten. They roll around somewhere in our mind consuming our mental energy. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnik effect. Bluma Zeigarnik studied this tendency to remember unfinished business after noticing waiters recalled unpaid orders better than orders already paid for. In further studies, she found that participants completing simple tasks in a lab were about twice as likely to remember interrupted, unfinished tasks than a completed task.

 

Families are filled with unfinished business. Some good…most I’d like to forget. Our spouse, our parents, or even our kids might do something that hurts our feelings, offends our sensibilities, or just makes us angry. If we do not find a way to resolve that offense, it will stick in our craw. It will keep us on edge. That unresolved offense will just roll around in our mind, bump up against all our thoughts, and suck up our energy and joy. It will continue to rob us of happiness and intimacy until we find a way to resolve it—finish it, pack it up, and remove it. That’s the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency to remember unfinished business until it is completed.

 

So, for the sake of your happiness and your family intimacy, finish the unfinished business of hurt feelings, offended sensibilities, and anger. Practice forgiveness and teach your kids to do the same! Forgiveness does not forget or excuse the behavior that offended you. It simply allows you to think about the incident objectively, counts the cost of the offense, and then graciously release the desire for revenge. It catches the ruminating thoughts of revenge and transforms them from bitterness to compassion. It helps you recall the positive characteristics you have witnessed from the offender on other occasions. Ultimately, forgiveness allows you to let the offense go and finish the unfinished offense. It allows you to regain the freedom to live your life well, to finish with grace.

 

Don’t let your life get stuck in an unfinished merry-go-round of anger and bitterness that robs you of intimacy and joy. Take a lesson from Zeigarnik, finish the offensive business…forgive! Your family will love you for it.

A Great Way to Win an Argument

If you have been married for any length of time, you know that arguments happen. If you have ever parented a teen, you definitely know that arguments happen. And arguments kids arguing 5 and 6 years oldescalate. Each person conspires to make the other person understand “what I’m saying.” Defensiveness increases. Voices get louder. Heart rates begin to increase. Breathing accelerates. Many people find their jaw tightening. Other body muscles begin to tighten. Each person becomes determined to prove “my position” and “defeat” the other person’s position. In other words, the argument is no longer about resolution. The body has moved into a fight or flight response. Each person is either looking to fight and win or shut down and escape. Neither choice helps resolve the disagreement. But, there is a way to win this argument. That’s right. Here is a technique you can use to win an argument, even after it has gotten to the level of “fight or flight.” This solution will sound counterintuitive, but it is the best move to make. The move…? Take a thirty minute break! I told you it sounds counterintuitive. But, it is true. The best way to resolve the disagreement and win the argument is to take a break. Dr. John Gottman wrote about this idea in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. “In one of my experiments,” he noted, “we interrupted couples after 15 minutes [of arguing] and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more productive.” In other words, a thirty minute break in which both parties focused on something other than the argument, helped them calm down. Their heart rate returned to normal. Their breathing returned to normal. The stress hormones pulsing through their veins decreased. As a result, they could think more clearly. It was no longer about survival. It was about resolution. They could think about their partner and what was best for their relationship instead of focusing on defending themselves. They could listen better…and understand. So, next time you find yourself in an argument with a family member that seems like it is going nowhere, take a break. In fact, take a thirty minute break and focus on something else. Then, come back, discuss the disagreement, and search for a resolution.

Are You Manipulated or Accepting of Your Child’s Emotion?

“No, you can’t have a cookie. We’re eating supper soon.” As soon as the word “no” came out of my mouth, my daughter’s eyes watered, her lower lip protruded, her chin began to quiver and a tear gently rolled down her cheek. I watched…my heart went out to her…what should I do? 
 
“Give me your cell phone. We told you not to text past 11 pm and you did. Now you’ve lost your phone for the weekend!” My daughter heard the words and gave me the death glare. “Fine,” she barked before throwing her phone onto the table, turning away and stomping up the stairs. “I guess I’ll never talk to my friends again.” Her anger was palpable. What is the best response?
 
Each scenario brings the parent to a decision point…how do I respond to my child and their emotion? We hate to see our children suffer. We do not like to see them cry, miss out on something they really want, or hurt because of unfulfilled desires. We dread the times when our children become angry with us. We don’t want their anger to jeopardize our relationship. We just want “everyone to get along.” We long for close relationships filled with joy and untouched by moments of anger or disappointment. Unfortunately, emotions happen, and not just happy ones. We will experience our children’s sadness, anger, disappointment, hurt…. The question is: how do we respond when those negative emotions arise? Do we allow those emotions to control us? Manipulate us? When our children poke out their lower lip and fill their eyes with tears, do we give in and let them have what they want so we don’t have to watch their hurt and disappointment? If so, we have allowed their emotion to manipulate our actions. Do we yell after our children, filled with anger because they reacted to our discipline in anger and stomped away? If so, their anger has manipulated our response. When we allow our children’s emotions to manipulate our response, we teach them that we are more concerned about their “feeling good” than we are about their character and integrity. We teach them that their emotions are more powerful than us. We teach them that their emotions are more powerful than truth and discipline.
 
Or, do we accept their negative emotions? Do we acknowledge their emotions, empathizing with them while still upholding our limit? When our children pout and cry, we can accept their disappointment and hurt by simply saying, “Yes, I know it’s disappointing not to get your cookie now; but you still have to wait until after supper.” When our children throw down the phone and stomp up the stairs, we can accept their anger. Let them be angry and realize that they have still complied with the limit by giving you the phone. Later, after they have calmed down, you can talk to them. You can acknowledge their anger, empathize with the frustration of losing privileges when rules are broken…and explain that a natural result of breaking the rules is losing privilege. As we accept our children’s negative emotions we allow them to learn how to manage those emotions. We teach them that there are uncomfortable, even painful, consequences to misbehavior. We teach them that the truth, their good character, and our love are all stronger and more important than “feeling good” or “getting my way all the time.”
 
So, which do you do? Do you allow your children’s emotions to manipulate you? Or, do you accept their emotions—acknowledge and empathize with their negative emotions while still holding the line and responding in love? Acceptance may be the harder route, perhaps even the gracious path, but it produces the priceless fruit of a self-disciplined, maturing child.

Parents, Do You Bail, Pounce, or Let ’em Suffer

I reread the story of the Prodigal Son the other day. You might recall the story…a son asks his father for his inheritance. This loving father gives his son his inheritance, no questions asked. The son leaves home and blows the whole thing on wasteful living. He ends up broke, without friends, and working one of the lowliest, dirtiest jobs possible. Of course, he eventually “comes to his senses” and returns home expecting to become a servant in his father’s house. Instead, he finds a compassionate, gracious father who restores his status and position in the family. I have always loved contemplating the father’s loving response when the prodigal returns home. However, this time I was captivated by the father’s actions during the prodigal son’s time away. Think about it. The prodigal son’s father may have known how his son wasted his money. He likely knew that his son was lonely, broke, working in a pig pen, and longing to eat the pig’s food.
 
At that point, the father had a choice. He could have sent his son some money. I’m sure he hated to see his son suffer. Like most parents, he probably hated knowing that his son suffer from an extreme need that he had the resources to relieve. In response, the father of the prodigal son could have sent his son a sum of money with a note attached—”Son, I know that times are hard so I sent you some money to help make ends meet. You are always welcome home.” What do you think the son would have done if he had received money from his father? Most likely, he would have wasted that money on “crazy living,” just like he did with the inheritance.  The father’s bail out would have robbed his son of the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. This temporary relief would have led to more long-term suffering. On a lesser note, the father would have lost more money. More significantly, the father would have to watch his son continue to spiral out of control and suffer the consequences of bad choices.
 
Of course, the father could have simply put up with his son’s situation. He could have endured his son’s misbehavior and grumbled to himself about how agitated he was by his son’s behavior. He might have become more and more frustrated as his son continued to waste money and spiral into bankruptcy. He could have allowed his bitterness to grow as he contemplated how his son had “taken advantage” of his kindness and generosity. When his son finally did return home, he could have waited at the top of the driveway—arms folded, tapping his foot; and, when his son confessed his wrong-doing and apologized, the father could have pounced.  He could have released all that pent up anger and frustration, unleashing a torrent of “I told you so’s” on his son. He would be justified in yelling, lecturing…and maybe even calling out a few names. Unfortunately, his son would have quit listening. Once again, the father would have robbed his son of any opportunity to learn from his mistakes. His son would turn his focus onto his father’s behavior…”This is why I left in the first place;” “all he ever does is yell at me;” “I can never satisfy him;” “I don’t know why I ever came back I the first place.” In the midst of all this, the son would never consider his own inappropriate misbehavior. By redirecting the son’s focus from his own misbehavior to the father’s emotional pouncing, the father would have successfully robbed his son of the opportunity to learn. His son may have even turned around and returned to the pig pen while the father continued to lecture and yell.
 
This father, on the other hand, allowed his son to suffer the consequences of his misbehavior. This father showed great wisdom. He allowed his son to suffer for his misbehavior. He did not step in to save the son from painful consequences. He did not lecture, yell, and scold. He simply witnessed the consequences, allowed the suffering, and waited for his son to realize the pain of his misbehavior. He may have empathized with that suffering, but he did not bail him out. He held onto the faith that his son would learn from his mistakes and the consequences of that mistake. He trusted his son to learn…and allowed him the time to do so. As a result, this son learned a valuable lesson about choices and consequences. He learned even more about the strength of his father’s love and acceptance.
 
We face similar choices with our children every day. Sometimes it is best to let our children experience the pain and discomfort of their bad choices, even when our heart aches to watch them suffer. If we bail ’em out, they will never learn. If we pounce on them with yelling, lecturing, and scolding, they will never learn. But, if we let ’em suffer now and again, they will learn a valuable lesson about behavior, love, acceptance, and obedience.  

How to Train Your Children

How to Train Your Dragon (oops, I mean) Children

Maybe,” [Old Wrinkly] said, “you can train a dragon better by talking to it than by yelling at it.”

“That’s sweet,” said Hiccup, “and a very touching thought. However…from what I know about dragons…I should say that yelling was a pretty good method.”
“But it has its limitations, doesn’t it?” Old Wrinkly pointed out.
–From How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
 
Indeed it does; yelling does have its limitations. Yelling at children simply “scrambles their brain.” Young children cannot think clearly while being yelled at. If they cannot think clearly, they cannot learn the positive behaviors we desire. Teens, on the other hand, simply shut the yeller out. Their focus quickly shifts to “how unjust” it is to be yelled at, how “they always yell at me,” or “they expect me to control my temper but…” The teen becomes more focused on our yelling behavior than the misbehavior that led to the yelling. They focus on the behavior of the one yelling and totally disregard their own inappropriate behavior. No, simply yelling at a child “does not an effective parent make.” Yelling definitely has its limitations. How then do we impress on our children the importance of positive behavior? When they have engaged in the same inappropriate behavior time and time again, how do we make them understand the need to change? When we really want to impress our children with the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, “actions speak louder than words.” Quit yelling…and let them suffer the consequences of their behavior.
     ·         Don’t yell at them for waiting until the last minute to do their school project. Instead, let them struggle through the process of completing it, even if they have to miss out on a favorite TV show or a desired activity. Let them suffer the poor grade if they do not complete it on time.

·         Stop yelling about taking the garbage out. Simply ask them to take it out. If they do not take it out, watch it grow until they ask you for something. Then, remind them that they did not do what you asked of them. Calmly ask them how they think you should respond to their request after they disrespected your request. Ask them, again, to take out the garbage and let them endure the consequence of taking out an overflowing garbage can.

·         No need to yell because your children did not do their one or two basic chores around the house. Instead, let them know that they cannot go out with friends…or watch TV…or play their video games, until they have finished their chores. Then stand firm on that statement until the job is done.
 
You get the idea. Children need to learn that misbehavior makes their life more uncomfortable than appropriate behavior. Yelling will not get that message across. Yelling distracts from that message. Allowing children to experience the consequences of their behavior will impress that lesson on them. Unfortunately, this means that we, as parents, have to step back and allow our children to endure the consequences of their behavior. We hate to see our child get a “F” (or even a “C”) because they waited until the last minute…or struggle and complain while picking up the overflowing garbage…or miss an opportunity they might enjoy because they have to finish a boring (even tedious) chore around the house. We hate to see our children suffer. It can be painful to watch, painful for the moment; but, the long-term learning for our children will prove priceless. They will learn that appropriate behavior results in a better life and mature decision-making produces greater happiness.