Let’s think about the challenging moments of parenting. You know, the frustrating moments that make you wonder why you ever had kids in the first place.
Here is an example: For the past few weeks we have been having daily battles over socks. Yes. Socks. My 5 year-old daughter whines and complains that she “hates wearing socks.” It’s winter time here. The ground is covered with snow and ice. Not only is she boycotting socks, if left to her own devices, she would only wear sandals.
Yet…It’s not my daughter that needs to be fixed. Not wearing socks is the problem I want to fix.
Problem Solving vs. Fixing the Behavior
Turning frustration into deeper connection.
How do you define the problem in these moments? Sometime I think about parenting challenges as a struggle of wants. Or more specifically, the struggle between what I want in any given moment and what my daughter wants in the same moment.
Often I find myself going back to this reminder:
Even when we are both frustrated and angry, what we both want more than anything else is connection.
- Sometimes this means me stopping myself and just sitting down on the couch and shutting up.
- Sometimes this means trying to see things from my daughter’s perspective.
- It always means that I try to stay calm and look for win/win solutions.
- And often staying connected means reminding myself that my child is tired and that my job as the adult is to help her with the upset feelings that are driving her to drive me crazy.
Let me be clear that I fully embrace the idea that my daughter gets to be the boss of her own body and comfort. I sneak socks into her backpack, just in case she changes her mind. In the first version of a truce, she resigns herself to wearing boots. I do a little silent celebration.
But after a few weeks the boots are STINKY – the kind of stinky that when she kicks them off in the back of the car I am immediately assaulted by the awful smell. We have a new conversation. It goes like this.
Me: “You need to wear socks or you need to bathe more often. Your feet stink. You can choose.”
My sweet daughter: “NO! No, no, no, no.”
She doesn’t even want to be part of the conversation.
I try again. “What if we go to Target and buy some really cool, thin socks that feel more comfortable?”
My sweet daughter: “Thinner socks? Cool socks? Shopping at Target? Sure!”
That afternoon we go to the store. I look for thin socks that sit below the ankle. I figure less is more. I show my daughter a pair. “Oh, no, mom. Those are white.” We finally settle on a 6 pack of neon colored socks with cupcakes and cookies on them. My daughter is delighted.
That was a week ago. We have not had a conversation about socks since then. She LOVES her new socks. She likes to show them off to her dad and her friends. Does she love wearing socks? No. But she is perfectly willing to wear these socks without a daily battle. I would say that we have found a win/win solution.
I don’t want to suggest that the solution is always about going shopping. Or that it’s usually this easy to figure out the win/win solution. Remember that we spent weeks fighting about socks before this.
If the regular battles are most usually about us wanting different things, it’s also true that sometimes I just don’t get what I want. I’d like my daughter to wear something other than her birthday suit to bed at night. It’s totally my own paranoia. Her nightly nakedness makes me slightly uncomfortable in a way I’m not particularly proud of. But again, I remind myself that it’s her body and I want to teach her to be able to be the boss of her own body. I remind myself that when it’s a question of safety, it’s my call, no question. But how she wants to sleep, alone, in her room, is up to her. She’s perfectly content to wear pajamas when she stays over with a friend.
Stop trying to fix the child. Focus on problem solving. This goes with the reminder to pick your battles. The clearer you can be about what is really important to you, the easier this gets. For me this was what I chose to pick. Socks? No. Stink? Yes. Pajamas? No.
The next time you notice that you are repeating the same argument with your children try this instead:
Please let me know how it goes. I always love to hear what’s working and what’s not working for you.