I am constantly amazed at the number of mixed messages parents give their children. We encourage our children to be independent and critical thinkers … while at the same time, criticize, argue with and sometimes even punish these traits.
We want our kids to express their thoughts and feelings, but we feel frustrated by our child's method. Whining, tantruming, yelling, arguing, or a rude tone of voice can fuel even the calmest parent's fire.
What most parents want is a child who is able to Respectfully Disagree.
Unfortunately, this is not something that comes naturally to kids. It is a skill that needs to be taught.
Teaching Kids to Respectfully Disagree
Yep, like most things, 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.
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.
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.
Changing patterns is going to take time. It may not come naturally at first. That is OK! You and your child can work together to find the "script" and expectations that works 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 towards repairing the relationship may be a step in the right direction.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Imperfect Families. It has been republished here with permission.
Nicole Schwarz is a mom to 3 little girls, a Licensed Therapist and Parent Coach. Check out her blog, Imperfect Families for more positive parenting tips and learn more about how Parent Coaching can help you find solutions to your parenting challenges.