By Cynthia Klein
Imagine you are having a conflict with your child because he won’t do his homework. You are in a deadlock because both of you are determined to win the argument. Your perspective is that it is his homework and he needs to be responsible for getting it done. You shouldn’t have to nag him. He can do it if he would only try harder. This one-sided inflexible perspective builds walls which creates barriers to problem solving together.
I recently coached a couple who held the “We’re right” position with their daughter who was struggling with homework. They judged her with “should” statements that caused her to pull away and not accept their help. They tried criticism, blaming and shaming to get her to “be responsible” without results. Examples of inflexible judgmental statements that they used are; “Why won’t you let us help you?” “You could do it if you didn’t spend so much time talking with your friends” and, “You say you want better grades, then why don’t you try harder?”
Mary and Bob needed to adopt a more flexible ally perspective. Then, they could listen to each other and share responsibility for solving the homework dilemma. Their daughter had a gap between what she wanted to accomplish and what she was actually accomplishing. Children need their parents to step in and help them bridge this gap.
Here are three steps for parents to take in order to break through the parent-child power struggle deadlock. It is crucial for the parent to shift from inflexible beliefs and actions to flexible beliefs and actions. First, eliminate all statements with “should” such as, “You should be able to do this.” “Should” is dangerous because it is judgmental and disregards the child’s perspective. Second, clearly state the facts of the situation without judgment. Third, discuss problem solving solutions based on reality rather than your expectations and fears.
Mary and Bob transformed some deep-rooted inflexible beliefs that were triggered by fears. They were afraid that their daughter might not succeed in school, not attend college and reduce her earning potential. Even though these fears may be valid, it is important to focus instead on staying in the moment and problem solve together. Here are examples of how Mary and Bob shifted their thinking.
Old should-based inflexible thinking: If she would only try harder, she would finish. These thoughts were replaced with:
New reality-based flexible thinking: She isn’t able to do the homework even though she wants to. Maybe she really doesn’t understand it.
Old should-based inflexible thinking: If she didn’t rush through her work, she would do better. Why won’t she let us help her? These thoughts were replaced with:
New reality-based flexible thinking: Maybe she doesn’t want help because she is embarrassed that she doesn’t understand. I have made it difficult for her to share her feelings. This breaks her trust in me.
Old should-based inflexible thinking: But I shouldn’t have to help her so much. These thoughts were replaced with:
New reality-based flexible thinking: Apparently, she is not able to do the homework on her own. We need to help her bridge between her current limitations and her dreams. We’ll tell her we realize it is difficult and we will work together to find solutions.
When Mary and Bob empathized with their daughter and shifted from being an adversary to an ally, the wall came down. They discovered that she didn’t understand her math. She now accepts her mom’s help and understands the assignments. Her grades have gone from failing to great!!
You may be thinking, “But my child knows how to do the work, he is just lazy.” The same formula applies. Stop judgmental “should” statements. Clearly state the reality of the situation. Address your fears. Transform inflexible beliefs to flexible beliefs. Then be open to solve the problem together.
The parent leads by changing their beliefs and actions first. We steer our relationships with our children out of a deadlock by changing our inflexible thinking and actions to flexible thinking and actions. As we give up attempts at controlling our children, we can parent with compassion, wisdom and understanding.
Every deadlock is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our children. When you feel stuck, step back and self-reflect. Listen to your children today with an open mind and an open heart. With this approach, your family members will build bridges to understanding together and roads to happy and successful lives.
Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Certified Parent Educator since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children of all ages. See more at www.bridges2understanding.com.