Harmony in Music and Relationships
In music, two or more notes harmonize when the wave lengths of their respective vibrations are compatible and produce a pleasing sound. You do not have to be a musician or mathematician to know when they are discordant–they are not compatible, and they are not in harmony. They don’t sound good together. There’s nothing wrong with either note, of course. They are equally good and legitimate notes. They just don’t sound pleasing to the ear when played together. You could say they are “fighting” each other.
So too in a relationship. Two people who are not on compatible “wave lengths” could be said to be discordant, or fighting each other in some way. Add a third person who is not on the same “wave length” either, and you’ve got a real mess.
Discord in the Parent-Child Relationship
Let’s focus on the parent-child relationship. (What follows could be said about a relationship between any two adults, as well.) An argumentative, whining, or uncooperative child could be said to be “out of tune” with their parent, or not on the same “wave length” as the parent.
By the same token, you could say that the parent would be in conflict with, or “out of tune” with, the child. Both have different desires, and these are in conflict with each other. Just as in music, there is nothing wrong with either person (note). It’s just that at the moment they are “vibrating at different frequencies.”
The child, for example, doesn’t want to go to school, or eat the vegetables, or get off the computer. You could say that the child is being “uncooperative” with the parent, and with the parent’s desires, but that doesn’t necessarily make the child’s behavior bad in itself. After all, not going to school, or not getting off the computer, or not eating vegetables, is sometimes quite appropriate depending on the circumstances. From the child’s perspective, of course, this conflictual moment is one of those circumstances, and it’s the parent who is being uncooperative, and out of harmony. So it’s fair to say that at that moment he child’s and the parent’s desires or behavior are “out of tune” with each other.
Changing the “Parent Note” First
In a conflictual or discordant moment the very first thing that the parent does might well be the single most important thing s/he does. What I propose to parents in my classes is that when they are confronted with a whining, uncooperative, or belligerent child, the first thing they do is tune in to their own vibrational frequency (desires, feeling reaction to the child), and acknowledge to themself “Okay, there’s disharmony here.”
This rapid self-reflection immediately takes the parent out of an angry, conflictual, win-lose mind set, and puts them in a higher state of conscious awareness–one that is focused on the dynamics of the relationship at that moment. This is a broader, more comprehensive, and far more empowering perspective than viewing the uncooperative child as an enemy to be fought, yelled at, controlled, or in some way subdued.
This is not to say that the parent does not want the child to change their behavior. It merely says that instead of seeing the child as “an object that I need to change,” the parent now sees the child as “an object vibrating at a different frequency than I am” because of conflicting thoughts, feelings, and desires at the moment.
Some new behavioral options are now immediately available to the parent by avoiding an anger response and being empathically present to that child at that moment. This is the first step to helping the child change because it establishes harmony instead of conflict in a difficult moment.
Why Must the Parent Change First?
The parent is able to change his/her own “frequency” first where the child may not be, because the parent is older, wiser, more experienced, more self-disciplined, more insightful, more resourceful, and less self-centered than the child. So it’s the parent’s responsibility (response ability) to bring the relationship into harmony at that moment, and get rid of the discord.
This is a radical departure (and a powerful one) from common parental practice. Kids generally prefer harmony with parents over discord. They desperately want their parent’s acceptance of their needs, and they also desperately want to get their own way. I’m not suggesting that the parent will let the child have their own way. But I am saying the parent “in harmony” instead of “in conflict” is in a much better position to invite the child to make a change and stay “in harmony” with the parent.
Once the parent achieves harmony by accepting the child’s thoughts, feelings, and desires, the parent can take the second step: change again, and play yet a different note, inviting the child to stay in harmony with the parent.
Conclusion: the Parent’s Time-Out
I’ll spell out the concrete steps for doing this in the next article, “Parent-Child Harmony.” For now, let me conclude by saying that this approach of getting in harmony with the contentious child is “backing off” but it is not backing down, or giving in to the child’s demands. It simply means the parent acknowledges the existence of those demands and their motivating thoughts, feelings, and desires. By stepping back from the “war of wills,” or power and control struggle, the parent has temporarily transformed the relationship from discord into harmony. Why? Because it takes two notes to be in discord (conflict), and it takes two people to have an argument.
If the discordant moment occurs at a time and place where this next maneuver is possible, the best way the parent can maintain harmony, is to take a time-out. The parent does it decisively by saying something like, “I’m getting upset, and I need a time-out,” and then walking away (to another room) to think things over.
The parent’s time-out both respects the child and respects the parent him/herself. And it puts the parent in a powerful position to influence the child to change their behavior.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.