Photo credit – Dreamstimes
1. Don’t fall into “vertigo.” Perhaps no relationship in life is as intense as that between parent and child. So as conflict intensifies, you risk having the tension emotionally consume you, to the extent that you can think of nothing else in your life. I call this experience vertigo, for you feel like the world is spinning out of control. Every time you try to regain focus, your child makes a new demand of you or a child lobs a punch at a sibling , pulling you one step further into that emotional swirl.
The best way to break out of vertigo is to avoid getting into it. As tensions escalate, ask yourself one critical question: “Do I really want to get caught up in this conflict?” Most likely, the answer will be no. So take a moment to regain perspective: Take a deep breath and imagine yourself an hour from now, alone in the shower or in your bed relaxing and reading a book. Or imagine yourself on the moon looking down at your interaction. Is it really worth getting so worked up over your kid’s bedtime? Probably not.
2. Appreciate your child’s concerns. We parents tend to think that we know all the right answers, especially when we are in arguments with our children. But just because we have power over our kids doesn’t mean that there is no validity to their perspectives. Kids often have a good rationale motivating their behavior, and it pays to take the time to inquire, listen, and try to understand. When your ten-year-old starts shouting that you treat him unfairly, don’t just defend your behavior. Ask why he thinks that way. He may be jealous of the leniency you show in disciplining his younger brothers, or he may be making a call for more attention.
3. Give your child some autonomy. Imagine how disempowering it can feel to be a child: Your parents tell you what time to wake up, what to eat, when to sleep, and even how to talk. Unsurprisingly, then, children want some freedom to determine their own destiny. Even my four-year-old son Liam will break out in a temper tantrum if I choose his dessert for him. “Daddy! I want to choose!!!” So the next time your child asks if she can stay up an extra half hour, don’t just say no. Ask why. Listen to her reason, and give her a choice: “If you stay up later tonight, you will have to go to bed earlier tomorrow night. Which do you want?”
4. Resist the repetition compulsion. Notice the patterns of conflict that you tend to repeat when in a fight with a child. In my own family, I noticed a common pattern develop with my ten-year-old son, Noah. The moment he started to tease his younger brothers, I would immediately step in with tough words: “Noah … stop!” He tended to ignore those words and persist with his behavior, which undermined my authority but elevated his status in his brothers’ eyes. Of course, I would then further assert my authority, again demanding he stop. Inevitably, our conversation would end in a verbal clash.