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Letting your child have the last word

mouthytween-insideSometimes when you’ve won an argument you can help the person who lost save face by letting them get the last word in. I think this can be particularly helpful with kids.

You can help move things along by letting a kid stomp away mumbling. This seems counterintuitive and I know it’s tempting to holler, “What’s that? Who do you think is such a mean mom? Get back here, young lady!” but don’t give into it. If you pull them back, “What was that you said?” you’ve entered into a power struggle. Power struggles are tar pits; do not get stuck in them.

You can pretend not to hear it even if you do, which is going to help things get back to normal more quickly than if you bring them back in to escalate the argument.

We want our children to be respectful and for some families that makes it very hard to let someone grouch off to her chores muttering under her breath. But here’s the thing, if you let her do it, if you let her turn away and get a dig in that’s meant to be just loud enough for you to hear, you’re actually coming out ahead because you’re saying, “I am big enough to withstand and allow your muttering.”

Same thing with slammed doors.

Same thing with eye rolling.

Same thing with “whatever” under her breath.

You can address the things that are truly out of line in your family later (maybe in your family slamming a door is against the rules or maybe it isn’t, remember there is no one-size-fits-all parenting). You can address it when people are calmed down because it’s easier to work out one conflict at a time.

Make your point, let them mutter or stomp or slam. Once everyone is back to an even keel then bring it up, “Hey, when I talked to you about those chores and you rolled your eyes while I was talking, that upset me. In this family we show each other respect even when angry.”

One conflict at a time. Chores or eye rolling, not both at the same time. Otherwise you’re in the tar pit, mucking around in an argument you never intended to have and the chores still aren’t done. Which may be the very reason they’re doing all of that eye rolling.

(I have one child who is a master at this deflection. I say, “Pick up your socks” and that child stomps, arms crossed, pouts and says, “Why do you hate me” and I say, “I don’t hate you” and that child says, “You are so mean!” and I say, “I am not mean!” and it’s three hours later and there are still socks all over the house.)

So how could you respond?

You: “Please clean your room.”

Him: [sigh] “Ok, mother.” [eye rolling as he turns away]

You: “Thanks. I appreciate your help.”

You: “I said no PS3 tonight and I mean it.”

Her: [stomp] “You are so unfair!” [storm away, door slammed]

You: [nothing because you made your point]

You: “Please go change your shirt before we go out to dinner.”

Him: “This shirt is fine! I’m just going to get it dirty again anyway!” [turning away to go change, muttering, “Like your clothes are so awesome!”]

You: [nothing because you made your point]

You: “I said the trash needs to go out and it needs to go out NOW.”

Her: “It’s not like you make anyone else take out the trash! You pick on me! Why are you so unfair?” [as she storms off with the trash bag]

You: [nothing because you made your point]

If they still try to draw you in, stay one-note and stay calm, “I’m not talking about whether or not I’m unfair, I’m telling you to turn off the PS3.” “I’m not discussing standards of cleanliness right now, I’m telling you to change your shirt.” “We can discuss chore assignments later. Right now it’s time for you to take out the trash.”

Sometimes it helps to turn away physically to indicate the conversation is over. This shows that you’re confident. Resist the urge to keep an eye on them. Resist the urge to end any directions with, “OK?” As in, “Please go change your shirt before we go out to dinner, OK?” You’re just giving them permission to tell you how not OK they are with your instructions. Unless you’re really interested in their opinion, don’t ask for it.

Then let them mumble, mutter, stomp or storm away from you.

I’m not saying that ignoring a bad attitude is always the way to do things or the only way to do things but if you catch yourself getting stuck in arguments you never meant to have, try it — bite your tongue, sit on your hands, exchange meaningful angry glances with your partner but stay quiet — and see what happens.

 

It’s not suffering that does damage

"It's not suffering that does the damage ..."The parental voice, it’s like the voice of God. It spoke to us with such power when we were small and so we carry it with us for good or for bad.

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” And we learn that our sadness is not true sadness.

“How can you be hungry? You just ate dinner!” And we learn that we can’t trust our own appetites.

“Come on now, Santa’s not scary; sit on his lap and tell him what you want for Christmas!” And we learn that we can’t believe our instinctive fear.

“You do not know yourself as well as I know you!” That’s what those things say to children. That’s what was said to many of us and so we don’t know. We don’t believe ourselves. We try not to cry because our problems are not worthy of our sorrow. We eat when the clock — not our bodies — say. We ignore that sinking feeling that something is very wrong and stay with the person who hurts us.

We parents, we sometimes have a hard time remembering that our children are fully their own people. It’s understandable because for such a very long time they do seem to be completely of us. The infants we carry, the babies we know, the toddlers who need tucked in to sleep even though they want to keep running — no wonder we have a hard time believing them when they insist that they’re full or that they are truly afraid of the bathtub drain. We know them best; we knew them before they knew themselves and those first breaks away are painful and hard.

It takes practice to separate on both sides. It takes practice to say, “I end here and there you begin.” We’ll make mistakes and insist on coats when they don’t want them and buy them gifts they don’t like because we’ve read them wrong. Generally, if there’s love and respect and (importantly) a willingness to acknowledge that we may be wrong our children will thrive in spite of those mistakes. But when we insist, when we tell them that our filters have to rule their worlds, we do real harm.

Some of us do that harm because harm was done to us. We grew up believing that we could not know anything because we were so small. We believe that our parents ignored our wants, wishes and needs for our own good. We repeat the damage because confronting our own losses is just too hard. To acknowledge that our children are separate if we were not allowed to be is to confront the loss of the self-awareness we were denied.

This is one reason parenting is so dang hard. We’re not just parenting our children; we are re-parenting ourselves.

You’re doing a fine job

This Cocteau Twins song came up on my iTunes rotation the other day and for the first time I caught the lyrics. I thought, “Hey! This makes a terrific Therapeutic Moment!” So I’m sharing it with you. Lyrics are below the (fan-made) video.

Lyrics:

Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have

How do I feel about myself?
I try, I am resourceful, I contribute
I belong when I contribute

I don’t have to be perfect
I’m accepting myself as I really am
I’m feeling love for my successes

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self respect)
I’m doing a fine job

I think, yes, I’m doing a fine job
I’m accepting myself as I really am
I’m feeling love for my successes

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self-respect)
I’m doing a fine job
(Thank you for your encouragement)
I think, yes
(For my efforts and improvements)
I’m doing a fine job

Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have

I think, yes, I’m doing a fine job

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self-respect)
I’m doing a fine job
(Thank you for your encouragement)
I think, yes
(For my efforts and improvements)
I’m doing a fine job

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