Conflict Resolution Has Many Faces
I feel like I went to the conflict resolution Twilight Zone and back. I just finished reading an article asking the provocative question, “Is Yelling the New Spanking?” My immediate thought was, “Heck yes, yelling leaves scars on the heart.” I didn’t really think there could be much discussion about it. Wrong.
Reading the number of angry comments from adults who are tired of being judged for spanking or yelling at their children when they misbehave or don’t listen took me by surprise. They proudly write that their children nearly always behave and follow rules without discussion. They also say their young ones love them all the more because they mean what they say, and that shows they care.
Besides…they grew up just fine in a spanking or yelling household. Several went on to say that parents who do not spank or yell are lazy and are raising disrespectful, soft, and disobedient children. Such certainty!
What a hornet’s nest is created when a parent feels judged!
I Understand. I Do.
That is because we all absorbed the unspoken lessons that we were unintentionally given by our parents. Messages like these are in our bones if we were regularly spanked: Misbehavior should be punished. Conflicts need to be squashed, not resolved. Punishment means I care. We manage strong emotions with physical force or by withholding love. On top of that, various studies have shown that people who were punitively punished on a regular basis as children can grow up to be more demanding and easily frustrated than those who were not. Lack of patience can lead to punitive punishment because results are swift.
I know the feeling of losing my temper. Wanting to clamp down and yell or threaten when children are out of control. We want to demand order and get our control back. However, yelling teaches children to get louder and more frantic to gain control rather than modelling ways to calm.
Way on the other side of the “parenting divide” are the parents who can’t seem to say the word “No.” Why is that? Again, we all absorbed the unspoken lessons that we were unintentionally given by our parents. Messages like these are in our bones if we were regularly told through actions or words that: Conflict resolution and disagreement are uncomfortable and wrong. Parents fix problems for children. Expressing negative feelings is not nice.
No wonder these parents can’t bear to watch their child cry or be unhappy. It’s not laziness. They are uncomfortable setting limits, and quickly cave in to their children to avoid conflict. Parents in this camp are proud that they never hit or lose their tempers, but not creating firm boundaries or allowing children to trample their own needs can be also be very harmful examples for children.
I know the feeling of second guessing rules or decisions to avoid another meltdown. We want happy kids. When we waver, we teach children uncertainty and they don’t feel safe. It is not helpful. They learn to continually test and retest because they never get a clear, confident answer.
I understand. We all have been hardwired by birth and molded by our experiences.
Choosing to Change Parenting Styles
Before our children enter our lives, good parenting seems pretty obvious. Especially from a table across the restaurant from a screaming or whining child. Our future children will never act that way, right? We will say “no” and mean it. Obviously, our children will listen to us and we will never need to spank or yell. Then of course, we are humbled daily after our first child arrives.
Or, some people promise themselves that they will not parent the same way they were parented. If we are honest, we are all surprised to hear our mothers or fathers voice come out of our mouths at one time or another. That’s OK. Most people in this category want to change because they hope to learn ways to keep calm in the heat of the moment, or they want to know how one can be kind but also set strong boundaries.
There comes a day when some decide that what they’re doing isn’t working.
Try To Understand Your Child’s Point of View
Parents stack the deck against children and ignore their developmental stages. We expect them to power through situations when they are hungry, tired, or rushed. Sometimes we have no choice, but it is our job to create conditions for success as often as we can.
Give them a heads up about the plan for the day, when it will be time to leave, and what kind of special manners we use at the library or mall. At meal time, put small amounts of food in front of them, so they can finish successfully and maybe even ask for more! At bedtime, have a ritual that they can look forward to and depend on.
Always try to acknowledge your child’s feelings. Not only is it respectful, but it is a trick up your sleeve to stop misbehavior in its tracks. “You are really mad that you can’t have another cookie. I hear you.” “You really don’t want to wear your seat belt. I feel that way too sometimes.” No need to say “but…” or explain about nutrition or safety. Just hear them. If they know they are understood, often children can move on.
Assume your child has good intentions. Their unwanted behavior is sending some kind of message about what they need, and disrespect is a request to be seen and heard.. Often needs boil down to attention or power. Those are not unhealthy needs, but the way they choose to get them can be a problem. Many parents might be shocked to watch a parent offer a hug to a child who hit their sister, thinking the bad behavior was rewarded.
Think it through further. The parent could snuggle and talk about other ways to get attention next time, and that hitting someone is always wrong. The two of them could make a plan for sharing more time later in the day, and talk about how to make things right with the sister. The lesson for the child is important. Their feelings are always OK, and they are just as loved when they mess up.
Understanding their message helps us know what they need.
Teach Children Respectful Conflict Resolution
What do we want our children to learn from us anyway? Some might answer, “Obedience and respect for authority.” Others may say, “How to develop inner discipline and make good choices for themselves.” How about, “How to exist in a family or community where everyone’s needs are met?” It’s a hard question to answer with certainty, and goals change according to the situation.
One thing is sure. Clarifying and defining our overall parenting goals is an important step that allows us to guide our daily decisions with empathy and confidence. If children are shown healthy communication skills and ways to express feelings, tools to regain calm, techniques for listening to others so they can solve problems, and given time to make decisions and mistakes, they are on a good path.
Gentler parenting is not lazy. It is the hardest stance. Being able to listen, provide the limits children crave, and calmly stick to your decision in the heat of the moment is saintly. Be saintly and scientific.
Remember what you do and how you react reaches your child in a deep and permanent way.