Monday, December 2, 2013

A secret to handling conflicts with your kids (From toddlers to teens)

It wasn’t until we’d found our place in the absurdly long line at Starbucks that I realized my daughter was mad at me for leaving the house late. I’d mistaken her sullenness for her typical morning lethargy, but when she seemed even quieter than usual I checked in. “Are you okay?”
“You had two hours to get ready!” she scolded in a stage whisper.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, a tad defensively. Her anger had caught me off-guard and seemed not entirely fair to me (as if feelings are supposed to be fair). There had been plenty of mornings she’d been the one to make us late, along with other times I’d been the culprit, but I couldn’t recall her ever having been so incensed about it. It was going to be an even longer than usual forty-minute trip to school.

And so it went. We sat in silence, but my inner dialogue was busy. The banter was indignant, sarcastic and embarrassingly juvenile. There was: “She’s lucky we’re willing to drive her to this godforsaken place every day. How many parents would put up with this?”  And: “Gee, another silent car ride with my brooding daughter. Now, there’ssomething new.”

We were about halfway to school when I began to tire of the one-sided griping. That’s when my higher self suddenly began arguing on my teenager’s behalf. “You know, you really do have a terrible problem with lateness. It’s inconsiderate and inexcusable.  When your girl’s struggling to get herself moving in the morning, the last thing she needs is to be waiting for you. How irritating is that?”

Okay, I can totally see that.

“This could be the perfect opportunity to model a little humility, swallow your pride, be the good guy and do the right thing,” my better angels continued.

When I decided to take the high road, I felt my mood instantly shift and then lift. Misery turned to hope, though I knew enough to bolster myself in anticipation of the rejection I might face.
We finally pulled over in front of my daughter’s school, neither of us having uttered a syllable for over forty minutes. Gently touching her chin, I turned my girl’s face toward mine and earnestly offered, “I am so sorry I was late. That was very thoughtless of me.” She listened but gave up little, though I thought I detected a softening in her eyes as she quickly left.
When I picked her up that afternoon, neither of us mentioned the issue, but it seemed all had been forgiven and forgotten. Funny, but at that point it almost didn’t matter. I’d been elated all day, celebrating a choice I’ve made many times in many ways since becoming a mom, but perhaps never so intentionally. I’d risen out of myself to become the person my daughter needed and deserved, and I was flying high.

This experience reminded me of the frame of mind I suggest to parents whenever they face difficult situations with their kids: rise above it.

Rise above your triggers, wounds and patterns from the past and be the parent, rather than getting caught up in your child’s behaviors, taking them personally and engaging in conflicts at his or her level. This is the key to breaking negative cycles.

Rise above your fear that your children will be hurt or love you less when you upset them by setting reasonable,respectful limits(They won’t.)

Rise above and understand that children go through stages when they need to resist, defy and even reject us in order to develop in a healthy manner. Set honest personal limits (like, “I will need to move to the other room if you continue to speak to me that way”), but don’t feel threatened by this age-appropriate behavior or take it personally.

Rise above so you can set and hold limits confidently, calmly and early, without getting angry or holding a grudge. Repeat: don’t take behavior personally.

Rise above your impatience and model the manners, character traits and values you want your kids to emulate rather than demanding they share, apologize, express gratitude, treat others gently, patiently(!), generously and with respect.  

Rise above your worries and impatience (again), so that you can lead with trust rather than micromanaging your children’s physical and cognitive development, play and food choices, social issues, school work, etc.

Rise above impulses to correct or judge. Be the trusted confidant with whom your child can safely share her darkest feelings, even when they’re directed at you.

(Photo by char!lotte on Flickr)


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