Your child comes home from school complaining because he got in trouble for something he didn’t do. “I swear mom, I wasn’t talking! It was Brian. My teacher thought it was me!”
In an effort to help him stand up for himself, you say, “Why don’t you talk to your teacher? I’m sure she would understand that it was a mistake.”
Five minutes later, your child comes back into the room…
“Mom, Can I have a snack?”
You answer, “No.”
“Why??” (with a whining voice)
“It’s almost time for dinner.”
(Yelling) “You never let me have a snack! It’s not fair!!”
“That’s it! Go to your room!”
The Mixed Message
We tell our children to share their thoughts and feelings, stand up to bullies and have opinions, yet we ignore their whining, criticize their arguments and punish them when they disagree with our decisions. We don’t mean to send our kids a mixed message, but unfortunately, we leave them feeling confused, frustrated and unheard.
Eliminate the confusion and empower your child by taking the time to teach them how to respectfully disagree.
Teach Your Child to Respectfully Disagree
- Model: Like most issues in parenting, respect needs to start with the adults. Kids learn by watching and listening to the adults in their life. Challenge yourself to use a calm or neutral tone when disagreeing with your child. Stick to the facts, your feelings or what you’re observing. Skip the name-calling, punishment and yelling.
- Give Permission: Let your children know that it is ok to disagree with siblings, friends, teachers and even parents. Talk about “respectful” and “disrespectful” ways to disagree, and the potential consequences of each.
- Give the Words: Providing your child with a “script” will help him feel empowered to speak his mind in a respectful way. For example, “Here’s what I think…” or “Can I tell you how I feel?” Even a simple, “I disagree.”
- Be Willing to Listen: If your child is speaking respectfully, give them your attention. Hear their perspective and paraphrase it back to make sure you’ve heard it correctly. Resist the urge to interrupt or formulate your response before hearing their opinion.
- Don’t Fix It: Rather than jumping in and solving the problem or giving a punishment, let your child know that you hear their side. Responding with, “It doesn’t seem fair that you have an earlier bedtime” might be all that’s needed in the moment.
- Change Your Mind: Sometimes, your child may present a pretty strong case. If you are wrong or if you are willing to be flexible, it’s ok to change your opinion, compromise or give their position some extra consideration.
- Teach Coping Skills: Of course, there will always be situations when you cannot compromise or change your mind. In that case, it’s important that your child has a number of different ways to handle disappointment or disagreement. Practice these skills before your child needs them, so they will be ready when the time comes.
“Conflict between a parent and a child sometimes stem from the child not feeling heard, valued or respected.”
Putting it into Practice
Changing patterns is going to take time. It may not come naturally at first. That is ok! You and your child can to work together to find the “script” and expectations that work best for your family.
Maybe you’re from the “parent is always right” or “children should be seen and not heard” school of thought. If so, I would challenge you to examine how that is working for your relationship with your child. Conflict between a parent and a child sometimes stem from the child not feeling heard, valued or respected. I realize that you may not feel respected either.
Taking steps to communicate respectfully may be a stride toward repairing the relationship.
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