Influencing the Child to Change
How the Parent Influences the Child to Change
In a different article I described the dynamics of harmony in music as an example of why the parent must be the first to change when parent and child are in conflict, or discord. In another article, I explained why the parent — not the child — must be the one to change first in these conflictual situations.
This is a radical departure from normal parenting behavior (yelling, demanding, arguing) because it constitutes a “backing off” by the parent from the discord and conflict of the moment. Rather than giving a misbehaving or angry child a “time out” or a tongue lashing, the parent gets “in harmony” with the child’s upset feelings and desires at the moment not by getting angry or yelling, but by empathically moving into harmony with child by being aware that “there’s disharmony here.” Thus the parent elevates the interaction to a higher level by backing off from the war of wills through empathic attention. Then the parent takes the time-out to think things over and plan the next steps, and what s/he is going to do and say.
Now I want to describe the next steps a parent can take to influence the child to make a change.
Where there is harmony for the moment, the “parent note” makes another change and invites the child to get in harmony with the parent. This is where the parent gives the angry or misbehaving child a “time in” by engaging in an empathic dialogue that aims at an agreement.
Inviting the Child to Change.
Here are the steps.
1). Name the child’s feeling, intention, or desire. The parent merely reflects verbally what’s happening in the child that’s motivating the unacceptable behavior. “You’re angry and frustrated because you hate peas and don’t want to eat them.” Or, “You are having fun on the computer and don’t want to quit.” It is helpful for the parent to label, or name, the child’s feeling (upset, angry, frustrated, etc.).
2). Acknowledge the legitimacy of the child’s feeling, intention, or desire (but not the behavior). “I understand how that would make you feel upset.” This is acknowledgment of the child’s feeling or desire, not of the behavior. If the parent does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the child’s feelings or desires (even though they may be self-centered), but instead tries to get the child to change his/her behavior (say, stop the whining), the child is likely to feel attacked or put down–in other words, rejected, which is likely to make them even more angry and resistive.
3). Invite the child to say more about it. “Do you want to tell me more about it?” If no, then go to step 4. If yes, listen to what they have to say. Listening doesn’t mean you agree with what is said. It simply conveys that you acknowledge the child’s ideas as their truth in the moment. In addition, if the child speaks about it, they are elevating their behavior into harmony with you. They are now cooperating instead of just screaming or whining. You changed your note, and they changed theirs.
4). Set limits on what is acceptable behavior by stating your own desires in the form of an I-message. “I have some ideas about this, too. Would you like to hear what they are?” If she says yes, you give her another I-message. I’d like you to eat some kind of vegetable because they’re good for young, growing bodies.” Or, “I’d like to use the computer myself, and I want you to share it with me.” Or, “I don’t want you spending the whole night on the computer because…..” and give your reason.
5). Seek an agreement by asking what the child thinks would be a good idea (solution). “How do you think we should handle this?” Or, “What do you think should be done?” or, “So what can we agree on?” Then, be willing to “go the extra mile” to accommodate the child’s suggestion(s) if it’s something you can live with. Be willing to propose your own compromise if the child’s ideas are not in harmony with your own. Stick with it till you have an agreement that both you and the child can live with–at least for now.
These techniques are not necessarily going to work the first time you try them. If the child refuses to “play ball” with you by dialoguing, you might need to impose a solution–your solution. But if you can make this process a habit, so it becomes for a skill rather than just techniques (which they will probably feel like at first), then you are teaching your child several important things. For one, you’re teaching that you value, respect, and are willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of their feelings and desires (but not the behavior that these motivate). For another, you are teaching how to resolve conflict, instead of how to fight the power battle better, and how to impose your will on another person–-a technique children learn all too readily. Lastly, you are teaching your child how respect and dialogue result in harmony, not resentment.
When you “get the hang of it” (and it’ll take some practice), you’ll gradually find that harmony and mutual respect are the predominant music in your parent-child relationship, rather than conflict, discord, resentment, and defiance.
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.