Growing Together – May 2014 edition

Tips on Parenting & Relationships

By Ross Fields, CPE and Kathleen Fields, CPE
Munjoy Hill Observer, May, 2014

 Making the Problem Your Problem . . . An alternative to using punishment.

From April’s column . . . A punishment, reward, or a bribe create the illusion of correcting a behavior, but their effect is short-sighted.  Very soon, the punishment will require more severity, the reward higher in value, or the bribe much more enticing in order to have any effect.

So if using punishment, which actually degrades self-worth, isn’t such a great idea, what can you do instead? There are other alternatives that focus on long term results rather than quick fixes, which actually hide the real issue instead of “fixing” it. You’ll need to decide if positive, long term results are worth your effort in learning how to parent more deliberately. It’s easier to be in the punishment default mode and exclaim, “You’re grounded!” or “No video games for a week!” or “You’re not coming out of your room until your homework is done!” when you’re exhausted from a long day, than it is to find out what’s really going on.

One of the most common parenting challenges is the power struggle – two very strong-willed individuals pushing against one another, horns locked.  Your action implies, “You’ll do what I say!” and your kid, pushing back, is saying, “No I won’t and you can’t make me!” Boom! Out comes the punishment, along with a flurry of regrettable dialogue. Then there are hurt feelings and anger. And that cooperation you wanted originally, is impossibly out of reach.

So here’s one thing to do. First, press the “pause” button and remove yourself from the power struggle.  Leave the room if need be. Once you’ve calmed down, take a moment, by yourself, to get clear in your mind exactly what the conflict was about.  Now (this is critical.  Do not skip this step!), take out a piece of paper and list at least 10 things you love or appreciate about your child. Then, flip the paper over, and complete these statements:

  • I feel (your feeling) _______________ when you (do; say; behave like ) _______________________________.
  • I also feel (another feeling) _____________, because I worry about (something)________________________________________________
  • What I want is (tell what you’re wanting)___________________________________________________
  • I also want (saying to yourself) to talk about this calmly.

The goal is to make the problem your problem, not your child’s problem.

Here’s an example of how to phrase it: “I feel frustrated when we argue all the time about doing your homework, because I’m worried about your future. I’m afraid that I’m not doing my job.  I know I nag at you a lot.  What I want is for us to talk calmly about school and grades, and find some common ground, without a fight.  What do you think about this?”

Notice, you’re talking about YOU and YOUR problem.  Not your child’s.  You’re taking the focus off what he or she’s doing (or not doing), and focusing on your issue.

Set up a time where the two of you can be together in a comfortable space. Briefly explain that you want to handle this disagreement in a way where you both feel good about it. Go through each of your “I” statements.  Read them right off of your list if needed.  Have the courage to be imperfect. When you finish, look at your kid and ask, “What do you think? How can we work this out?” Then just be quiet, focus on listening to his or her response. Be patient. Learning any new skill will feel awkward at first. Hang in there.  With practice, results will improve and the power struggles will become fewer.

In using “I” statements, asking for help, and taking the time to listen, you’ll be teaching your child about self-worth, internal motivation, and interest in others. You’ll be parenting in a more effective, deliberate, caring manner.

And as always . . . with patience, education, and practice, you will become a more confident and effective parent.

It’s ALL about the relationship.

Ross Fields & Kathleen Fields are
Certified Parenting Educators (CPE) and
co-founders of Results Parenting, LLC