When arguing with kids, stay calm, control the situation
A popular new show on the National Geographic channel features dog expert Cesar Millan, who helps owners deal with their dog’s problem behaviors. In a recent episode, a couple needed help with their 4-pound Maltese terrier, who refused to sleep anywhere but on their bed. When they tried to dislodge him, the tiny terrier growled and bared his teeth until they backed down. The little tyrant was winning the battle of the bed, but he was in danger of losing a bigger war. His owners were fed up and ready to get rid of him.The situation reminded me of an old saying, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” While we wouldn’t want to take the metaphor too far, there are some striking similarities in conflicts over family rules between parents and children. Like the Maltese, children seem to know what buttons to push to anger their parents and gain control of the argument. A parenting expert says “Arguments are not won based on who is bigger or stronger. Arguments are won based on whoever is better at the game of controlling the mood of the other person and the direction of the argument.” Unfortunately, in many instances winning the argument comes at the expense of the relationship. Ideally the outcome of an argument between parents and children should result in increased cooperation of the child and improved relationship between parent and child. Cesar used an approach with the Maltese that accomplished both goals. He showed the owners how to adopt a kind, calm, yet firm attitude when working with their dog. They were able to communicate that attitude to the dog and maintain control of the situation. The owners got their bed back, and the relationship between dog and owners was better than ever.Adopting a firm stance balanced by a kind, calm demeanor works with children as well as dogs. It’s not always easy to maintain that balance, but there are several techniques to help you stay in control. Using terms like “nevertheless,” “regardless,” or “that’s the rule,” communicate that your word stands. You’re not going to back down, and you won’t be distracted, misled or manipulated. If you find your temper rising, have an exit statement ready such as, “I love you too much to argue with you,” or “We will discuss this later after we’ve had some time to cool off.” In case you get caught up in a heated argument, create a prearranged signal with someone else who’ll remind you to exit and wait.A win-at-all-costs attitude may be useful in a dog fight, but it’s rarely helpful when arguing with your child. By adopting a kind, calm and firm attitude, and exiting when you sense tempers are starting to flare, you can control the mood, direction and, consequently, the outcome of arguments. You can increase the cooperation of your child while strengthening the loving relationship you have. Karen Nadon is a YouthZone counselor/case manager.
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