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.

the disadvantages of time-out…

Photo by Ken Wilcox

While some American parents are beginning to question the use of hitting (aka spanking) as a form of disciplining children, the use of time out is on the rise, as evidenced by the popularity of such shows as Supernanny and Nanny 911 (read about Alfie Kohn’s views on the subject in his article Atrocious Advice from Supernanny).  The premise behind the traditional use of time-out as a punishment is to give the child  time to think about what they have done based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, though Skinner himself was against the use of punishment in an attempt to control children’s behavior. While many parents believe that the use of time-out is less punitive and harmful than hitting, even being touted by many who supposedly practice gentle discipline, evidence shows otherwise. This authoritarian approach is a form of bullying.

Children placed in isolated time-out do not think about what they have done. They are not spending the time cooling off, thinking about how they could better have handled the situation or how they might rectify it. Instead, most children will go through multiple emotions – fear that they are not loved because of their behavior, anger at the situation and the person responsible for sending them to time-out or at the other person involved in the original situation, blame, anxiety or confusion if the child doesn’t undertsand what is going one. They learn that by bullying someone holding less power than you, you can get your own way. Aletha Solter has a concise article concerning The Disadvantages of Time-Out at the Aware Parenting Institute.

Time-outs, besides resulting in a myriad of other problems, do not address the original issue. Children in time-out are not learning new coping or communication skills which they can use to solve problems and conflicts. They aren’t thinking about solutions for the current situation. The concept that children must feel badly about themselves in order to learn stems from beliefs that children are born evil and must be taught to be good. There is a definite need for parents to examine their own histories and philosophies before any significant change can be made in our culture. Until then, the cycle will continue.