Conflict as Opportunity

I’m happy to share a guest post with you today. Kassandra Brown of Parent Coaching speaks of how conflict can be an opportunity. In addition to sharing her thoughts here concerning how we can turn conflict into a way to both connect and better understand our children and ourselves, Kassandra has a special coaching offer for readers. She is willing to offer three free coaching sessions to the first person who asks. Consultations are always free. If you are looking for a way to change how you communicate and interact with your children, she is willing to help.

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When children disobey parents, parents are often told – by experts and other parents – that a Time Out is the solution. We’re told that our children need consequences. We’re told it’s a good idea, and it will give them time to think about what they’ve done. We’re told if we’re not firm, then we’re permissive and our children will never know discipline.

togetherYet here at Parent Coaching, we have a different opinion. Abandonment is one of the biggest punishments known through human history. To be kicked out of the tribe and made to be away from the protection of the rest of the group is an awful, sometimes fatal, punishment. This is the premise that Time Out is based on. If the fear of being isolated, alone, and ostracized is great enough, then a child will learn whatever rules parents or society say are ‘right’.

Leaving baby alone to cry in a crib, or sending a toddler or older child away in disgrace for a time-out can seem like you’re not doing anything much and it may be better than spanking or hitting. But it is not harmless. It is psychological warfare and adults are much better at it than children. We use the power of more words, longer sentences, and more complex arrangements of our thoughts and feelings into ideas that manipulate better and make isolation sound just. No wonder our children stop listening and pull out big hammers like “I hate you” when they don’t get their way.

I believe most parents want their children to be happy and safe. I believe most parents want to be happy and safe themselves. And I believe the biggest obstacle to being more effective and compassionate with our children is our own unfelt pain. For me, this happens when the unmet needs, the old hurts, and the developmental sequencing that never happened get stimulated by my child’s needs. I don’t like these old hurts being stimulated and I want to make the stimulation stop. My child’s crying, whining, and wailing pleas are the stimulation. If I send my child away the stimulation will stop. Making the parent’s pain stop is another part of the foundation on which Time Out rests.

What can we do instead? Try a Time In. When conflict happens, welcome your own feelings and your child’s feelings by gathering together. Our family often sits on the couch for a Time In. We sit together. Often my children don’t want to come and sit. They still want whatever it is they want – the game, food, or activity that stimulated their longing and that they think will satisfy them. But if I sit quietly, or my husband and I sit together quietly, eventually the girls come over and sit with us.

Once we’re fairly quiet, we take turns talking about how we’re feeling, what we want, and what we just did. I often use reflective listening to let my children and spouse know they are heard and to get clear on what they really wanted me to hear. A Time In is a time to come together and acknowledge the pain we’re feeling when one of us cries or yells. It is a time to share what each of us needs and wants. It is a time that often leads to more feelings of trust and safety in our family. It is not a magic cure-all, but sometimes it feels like one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Kassandra Brown is a mother, parenting coach, yoga teacher, and friend. She recently moved with her family to a rural ecovillage in Missouri where they are creating a life of radical sustainability and emotional honesty. Three free teleconferencing calls introducing parent coaching will be happening with her this September. You’re invited! Read more of her writing at Parent Coaching’s Blog or connect with her on Facebook.

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The Benefits of I-Messages

Photo by Paul Stocker

I-messages seem simple enough, but the benefits that come from them are anything but simple.

  • We are more likely to influence another person to change an undesired behavior by using I-messages. Because they are less threatening, I-messages are less likely to provoke resistance or make the other person feel bad.
  • We place the responsibility for changing the behavior or action on the other person. Stating an I-message brings attention to the problem at hand without dictating how it must be rectified, trusting the other person to repect our needs and allowing them to take ownership of their actions. We relinguish any attempt at controlling the other person and allow them to take responsibility for their own actions.
  • When we use I-messages, we model honesty. Honest, open communication from one person in a relationship promotes reciprocal treatment from the other.
  • We open ourselves to the other person. Not only do we show that we are a feeling person with needs, we show that we can also trust the other person to be cognizant of our needs. By sharing of ourselves, we strengthen our relationship.

Balance

Photo by Murray Barnes

Balance is a continual process. In order to stay balanced, we must be constantly shifting and adapting to even small changes in the environment or situation. When something changes, we must also change in order to maintain our balance. If we don’t, then not only do we lose our previous balance, but we tend to topple down the other side. This is true not only in regard to our activities and the busyness of our lives but with our relationships, including those relationships with our children. When our children are out of balance, we need to step over and help regain that balance rather than spiralling down, out of control.

I’m Not Raising Corporate America

Photo by Justin Lowery

I’ve often heard parents rationalizing punishments and rewards by citing the real world. When the kids grow up, they’ll be in the real world. In the real world, they’ll have to get a job and then, they had better be prepared. Punishments and rewards are everywhere, in the real world.

This misses a key point. I’m not raising Corporate America. I’m raising my children. So, while some day they may find themselves in a corporate position faced with a choice to make, right now they are children living their lives. I don’t run my family by Corporate America’s values – to gain as much money (i.e. reward) as possible, often at the expense of others. And frankly, if my children are ever in such a position, I hope they look beyond the immediate reward and follow what they know in their hearts is the right thing to do – not because of someone else’s beliefs or because of some extrinsic reward – but because they are following what they believe.
In Corporate America, a person can make the choice to walk away and leave. They voluntarily choose to be in that position to earn a wage with whatever consequences go with their choices. Except in rare occassions, children do not have the choice to leave their parents and family of origins in order to find a more suitable position should they deem it necessary. Arbitrary punishments and rewards only exacerbate that parental power. If you want to compare punitive parenting with the work force, a more likely comparison would be with slavery. There is no chance of leaving besides running away with the hope of not being found.
Most of us look for jobs that are rewarding. However, that reward generally isn’t the almighty dollar. The most rewarding jobs are the ones where people are doing what they enjoy intrinsically. A few companies recognize this. Google is a prime example of this, despite its huge size. Employees at Google have a voice in matters. Recognizing that happy workers are more productive workers, Google strives to provide an enjoyable work environment rather than trying to control its employees.
At the end of the day, however, work isn’t all there is to life, and most people would say that their relationships are what really matter to them. Rather than trying to control our children with punishments or rewards, we talk to them – like the people they are. Sure, some of the people in our family are smaller and younger, but these are still relationships. And the last time I checked, we are living in the real world.

Pirate Diplomacy

Photo by Tai Gray

It was one of those idealistic parenting moments. I was in the kitchen washing dishes, and all four of my children were happily playing together in the living room.

The game of the moment was a pirate one, and there were plenty of giggles amidst the “Arghs.” In one of my glances, I saw my eight year old wielding a foam sword in perfect form. Another time, my three year old was proclaiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts (I’ve mentioned we are a family of bibliophiles). The throw pillows morphed into a gang plank and the fish in our aquariums were hungry sharks.

As the climax of the game approached, I heard something that made me pause. “Send in the baby! He won’t harm her.” I had to laugh at my son’s use of diplomacy.

conflict…

Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.

take a deep breath…

Everyone tends to get frustrated at times. Our family is no exception. Whenever that happens, we remind each other, regardless of age, to take a deep breath.

Taking a deep breath helps to calm us. The physical act of deeply filling one’s lungs and exhaling reduces stress. When stressed, we breathe in short, shallow breaths; deep breaths help to relax us. Breathing deeply also releases endorphins which help us to better deal with stress. It helps us to clear and focus our minds.

The time it takes to take a deep breath also breaks the current cycle of reactive thought. We can once again focus on finding a solution rather than expending all of our thought and energy on our frustration.