No More BUTS: Work Together As A Family
My 3-year-old just dumped out the contents of my bag, and now I must fish my wallet out of the toilet. Rolling up my sleeves and dunking for credit cards isn’t even the difficult part. It’s his meltdown over the fact that I’m ruining his fun that makes me want to throw in the towel.
When it comes to parenting, family conflicts go with the territory. As we raise our confident, independent little thinkers, they soon develop the nerve to flaunt their budding autonomy in our faces by not agreeing to everything we say. But don't worry, there are ways to outsmart those little (or big) rascals.
Want to learn how to better handle stalemates and other rough patches so you can have more fun as a family? Don't let these excuses get in your way:
But… it's OK for me to tell my kids what to do all the time, because I know what's right for them. You're positive that your tween is going to hate the skate park he’s insisting you take him to. You want to talk him out of going (it will be a waste of time for both of you), but experts say you may want to let this one go.
According to a 2012 study published in Communication Research, you need to give your kids the wiggle room to make mistakes, or their emotional growth could be stunted. Apparently, parents who over-control their kids aren’t necessarily protecting them. Instead, their children tend to grow up to have both an exaggerated sense of entitlement (because nothing bad ever seems to happen) and the lack of confidence to succeed at reaching their own goals (because they weren’t allowed to try enough scary new things).
But… if I don’t give in to my kids, the entire episode will end in tears -- or a tantrum. Keep things light when you approach a potential family conflict, and you may avoid drama. “Arguments are counterproductive to useful compromise,” notes Anna Hindell, LCSW. "It's best to discuss matters when all family members are calm."
Your goal: Get your kids not only calm, but giggling. According to University of Oxford researchers, grinning activates endorphins, those feel-good brain chemicals that promote a sense of well-being. So next time your 10-year-old is trying to pout her way out of drying the dishes, start a tickle fight or do something goofy that you know will make her laugh. Conflict avoided!
But… my kids don't listen to me. Then it’s time to talk less. Believe me, I know it's hard to bite your tongue when your kid resists -- or ignores -- you. But one of the most useful strategies in conflict negotiation is to listen, listen, listen. “When family members don't listen to each other… feelings get hurt and people can feel devalued,” says Hindell. To get the ball rolling, ask her open-ended questions, not ones she can respond to with a sulky “no.” When you start a conversation that way, you’re giving her the chance to think through her point of view. Plus, it demonstrates that you actually do value her opinion.
But… my children are always bickering with each other. My brother and I used to fight a lot in high school. I still remember one episode at the dinner table that involved mashed potatoes. I'll just say this: I hope you never find out how hard it is to get smashed spuds out of your hair and off of wallpaper. But siblings fight. It’s natural. However, there are some dynamics where you may need to step in, according to a 2012 University of Missouri study. When tensions arise due to a sense of unfairness or violations of personal space or property, they could result in lower self-esteem or even depression later on, says study author Nicole Campione-Barr. Apparently, any perception that one child is getting preferential treatment can have long-term effects. So when you play peacemaker, maintain a neutral position.
But… nothing seems to make my kids happy. You plan a trip to the lake and your daughter whines about the bugs. You pack for a picnic and your son says he doesn’t like the food. To sidestep an argument, kill them with kindness. In fact, when parents tend to overreact, it can foster temper tantrums or negative emotional behavior in young children, found Oregon State University researchers.
But… it’s hopeless because my partner has a totally different parenting style. Listen, kids know how each parent will react to a given conflict. It's even been shown that they'll accept different outcomes depending on which parent they’re arguing with, found University of Rhode Island researchers. According to the study, adolescents tend to compromise with mom but are satisfied with accommodating to dad. Use this information to your advantage. Guess who in my house is going to take on the fight over tennis camp this summer? (Hint: not me.)