What do your kids do that drives you crazy? Do they whine, refuse to come with it’s time to leave the playground, argue over who’s turn it is to take out the trash?
How do you handle these behaviors? Does this restore good feelings to everyone, or do you all feel worse afterward?
The good news is we can influence whether we are more connected after a conflict.
People are hardwired to see people as either threats or allies. When we try to control (through punishments, bribes, comparisons, false praise) our kids perceive us as a threat. They may go along with us to avoid the consequences, or they may become stubborn, angry, or defiant.
But if we can stay in the “ally” position, kids will almost always cooperate gladly. The key to building cooperation is to restore a feeling of connection.
Connect with love
Do you remember how you felt when your baby was first born? When she smiled at you for the first time or took her first step? Think about other times you felt overcome with love for your child.
Doesn’t your heart just melt when you think about these moments?
It’s impossible for us to feel loving toward our kids and feel threatened by them at the same time. And when they feel loved by us, they won’t feel threatened either.
Next time you find yourself butting heads with your kid, remember these tender moments and the overwhelming love you feel for this precious one. I guarantee it will defuse the situation and help you find a better way to handle it!
Connect with the need
A few nights ago, my husband was feeling particularly stressed. He hadn’t been sleeping well, and he had a lot to get done in the evening. He went into our office to work, and as he shut the door, it actually fell off the hinges!
He got really upset, and said some not-so-nice things.
At that point, I could have pointed out the errors in his thinking or replied with some not-so-nice words of my own. I reminded myself that “misbehavior” is a clumsy attempt to meet a need. What he really needed was to find a space he could work in without interruptions.
“Why don’t you go work over at the coffee shop. SweetPea and I will go to the hardware store and get some wood filler so I can fix the door.”
He was still visibly upset when he left. I was also rattled. No one likes to be on the receiving end of someone else’s bad mood.
When he returned, he was noticeably calmer. He apologized, and he thanked me for staying calm and not getting sucked into his panic.
Connect with the emotion
Sometimes we just need to feel understood.
This is especially true when we are feeling angry, sad, or scared. With kids, our natural impulse is often to try to reason with them when they are “melting down.” But if you’ve ever tried it, you know that it’s almost impossible to talk a child out of a tantrum.
Instead, if we can acknowledge what our child is feeling, we find that harmony is restored surprisingly quickly.
I saw this idea play out a few weeks ago when I was out to eat with a friend and her 5-year old daughter. She quickly grew tired of coloring and began whining that she was hungry. We told her that the food was being made and would be out soon. “Be patient,” we reminded her.
When the whining persisted, I remembered to connect. I looked at her with a pout, crossed my arms, and said, “It’s hard to wait when you’re so hungry!” She looked at me, nodded solemnly, then smiled. I turned over her coloring page and drew pictures of her favorite foods. Her good mood was restored.
What could have escalated into a full-blown meltdown instead ended in 10 minutes of contented coloring and conversation.
Connect with his world
Transitions from one activity to another can be challenging for many of us. As adults, we can say, “Let me just finish up this email,” or “Give me a few minutes,” when someone asks us to do something. But we often don’t extend that same courtesy to our kids.
Remember what I said about being perceived as a threat? When we don’t make space for our kids’ activities, preferences, and timetables, we set ourselves up to be the enemy.
There is a more considerate (and effective) tactic. Next time you need your child to do something, take a few minutes to first connect with what he’s already doing. Talk about it for a minute or two, then help him transition to the next activity.
“Wow! Look how far you’ve gotten with your Lego creation! What was the trickiest part?” “Great! Once you finish putting on that part that you’re working on, please mark your spot and go wash up for dinner. You can work more on your Lego project after dinner if you want.”
Connect with her strengths
I recently read Glennon Doyle Melton’s account of how her daughter changed her mind about getting her ears pierced after watching her sister do it. Rather than trying to cajole her into it or giving into the pressure from the sales clerk, Glennon championed her daughter.
Wow. That is SO BRAVE, honey. Even though all these people are here and want you to do this to your ears– you listened to yourself instead of to them. I am so proud of you. Trusting yourself to make decisions about your own body is so brave. read the whole story
Glennon could have pressured her daughter, or belittled her choice. Instead, she chose to see strength in what others would have labeled a flaw.
We remember moments where we experience strong emotion vividly. If we can meet our kids’ challenging behaviors with compassion and love, we can transform those moments from power struggles to deep connection. And rather than remembering a fight that left them angry or bitter, your kids can remember how you helped them when they were down.
So the next time you are struggling with your kids, ask yourself, “How can I connect?” You’ll be putting another tender moment in their memory box.
Think of a time you were struggling in some way. Who connected with you? How did that change the situation? Share your story in the comments.
This post was written as part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, where bloggers write about compassion on the 20th of every month. This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward spreading compassion with a particular focus on connection, including reconciliation.