There may still be some naive parents out there who don't feel the need to study conflict resolution. Their children are young and they are confident that a mere "no" from their lips ends all discussion. Oh how I envy their certainty. And boy oh boy, are they in for a big surprise! Eventually they are going to run into a brick wall of defiance and refusal.
How do we cope? What tools do we have in our arsenal to help resolve this impasse?
I recently heard a helpful story. A mother was struggling with her son. He was surly and unresponsive. He refused to listen to any of her constant barrage of helpful suggestions "Sit up straight" "Button your shirt" "Brush your hair" "Look at me when I'm talking to you." She felt frustrated (as did her son) and powerless.
Yet she witnessed an amazing thing on the football field. When this same child's coach offered constructive criticism -- even along the same lines -- her son obeyed. He stood straighter, his uniform was clean and neat (before the game anyway), he looked his coach straight in the eye, and he answered "Yes, sir!"
What was the difference? Although I would certainly advise this mother to stop the litany of complaints and focus on one major point, that wasn't the real secret. Her son listened to his coach because:
1. He wanted to continue playing football (the fear of consequences element)
and 2. He knew that he and his coach were on the same team. His coach was on his side and believed in him.
All coaches get frustrated at times. But his overriding goal was to help his players realize their potential.
Parents need to have the same goal. And our children need to know and experience that. On those rare occasions when we do give our children "tips for growth," it has to be because we care, because it's for their good, because we truly believe in their potential -- and NOT to satisfy any of our needs. It can't be because we feel frustrated, because we'd like things to run more smoothly, and especially not because we're concerned about what the neighbors will say.
Our loyalty to our children comes first, our belief in them is paramount.
A second tool at our disposal is our love. Parenting is a balance between love and discipline but the love should ALWAYS be dominant. We shouldn't avoid discipline because it makes us uncomfortable, but we should use it sparingly and thoughtfully.
We all know that consistency between parents is one of the secrets to successful child-raising. Whenever there is a conflict between the desire to show love and the need to set limits, it is better to err on the side of love (caveat: don't equate love with permissiveness). This doesn't mean no discipline; it means it should be rare. Everyone needs structure and limits. And then they need room within those parameters to grow and soar.
We need to give our children both. If they know we believe in them, it will be easier for them to accept some guidance. And if it truly springs only from love, it will be easier to give it.