This is going to be a tough post to write – a kind of follow on to confessions. Sometimes I seem to get into head-to-head arguments with Youngest. I know it’s something that everyone says, but he really is unbelievably stubborn. Well, maybe not stubborn – let me explain by way of a detour.
I guess I approach parenting like any other skill in life – learn what you can, do what feels right and look at feedback to correct your course. It was becoming obvious last year Youngest wasn’t happy. He was getting into trouble at school and having more tantrums than we expected from a five to six year old. So, I decided to seek help. I wasn’t convinced that a five year old should sit down with a child psychologist or therapist. So instead I went to the doctor, school nurse and health visitor to see if there was any parenting support out there. I found myself in a bit of a gap – babies and toddlers have health visitors, but young school age children seem to be catered for by a mix of charity and council funded operations. Finally we did make contact with a family information service and got was a reading prescription from the doctor. This is a fascinating idea, it’s basically a list of books that have been pre-vetted for certain subjects that are kept separate within the library. It worked for us and we ended up buying the most useful book so we could keep it and keep reading it.
This was a book called Raising Spirited Children. it is a bit American and it involves ‘reframing’ your conversations with your children. And recognising the traits that are difficult in your children are the very same traits that would make them successful in the future when they are adults. So now, instead of describing our boys as stubborn, we acknowledge how focussed they can be and praise them for that level of focus. Then, we gently suggest that maybe, instead of being focussed on how to make the perfect Lego pyramid, they could focus on getting ready for school?
Actually this is another interesting discussion right here – labelling. In short, there is, in a child’s subconscious, a world of difference between “you are being naughty” and “that was naughty thing to do”. In the first, you’re labelling the child, in the second it’s the action. I fell foul of this when I worked in a pre-school – because you’re not supposed to use the word “naughty” even if you’re labelling the action.
So, back to the thread… we got in contact and much to my relief, I managed to avoid being sent to parenting classes but I did get the assistance of a lovely woman called Amanda. Aside from the technical support, which was very valuable the other thing was that it was a chance to talk honestly with another parent, and an expert at that. I’ve written before about competitive parenting and many forms it can take. I always felt that if I talked about my children’s problems with another parent, then there would be a risk that it would turn competitive, either in a positive “my child doesn’t misbehave” or a negative “you think you’ve got problems” way. I know it’s not fair, and I do have friends who are helpful and supportive but having a neutral place to talk really helped.
One result of all this is that we tend to go for (excuse more Americanisms) conflict resolution. I see a large part of the problem between Youngest and me (and anyone else who tries to impose authority) is that it’s very easy to project your own interpretation onto the situation. So, when he kicked off in the petrol station (Occasional Updates 2) I was thinking that it was embarrassing because it looks like my children are spoilt and expecting me to buy them junk food. Also, I knew that we were going on to a shop that was cheaper with a better range than the petrol station. But really, all that was going through Youngest’s mind was that he was hungry and I was going to leave a place with food. Of course, being six he can’t articulate these thoughts, so he blew up! As I said, once we calmed down a bit I asked him what was wrong and we found a way to ensure he got some food, and I got an apology from him for his behaviour. Actually it changed my behaviour because I made sure I bought him enough food to eat, and not just a treat or snack. But I think the initial problem happened because I was stressed and running late, and had other things on my mind.
I spoke to a medical professional about an issue Youngest is having, which I won’t go into here as he does need some privacy! But, I was explaining that it would help if The Wife and I didn’t get into a head-to-head argument with Youngest, but got an agreement with him instead. To my surprise she reminded me that I was the father and he was the child! The very strong implication was that I should just lay down the law and insist he does what we want because we say so. I happen to think there’s a more subtle way forward than having a stand-up row with him. I don’t give in and I don’t excuse his bad behaviour, but I also don’t see that getting him all angry is going to achieve anything. If anything, especially over this issue, it would drive him to a place where he won’t want to explain what’s going on with his parents, and we will have a distance that could be dangerous to him.
This does mean that I make some compromises – for example Youngest is most often late to school, because the 9 year old Middlest tends to walk himself to the bus to avoid being late. The simple fact is that conflict resolution sometimes takes longer than yelling and forcing him to get dressed and out of the door. He isn’t actually that late but we do tend to compromise on him doing things like finishing his Lego, learning to read or playing games which improve his mental arithmetic. The very major upside is that when he does get to school, his mood is better and his behaviour has definitely improved. I think that’s worth a few late notes in his record.
The title of this post is back to the fact that all this book reading, outside help and soul searching led me to a revelation. Often when there are problems, they start with me, or whichever adult is getting involved. Recently I’ve had a stiff shoulder from sleeping awkwardly and this is making me me tired in the mornings. So, if I’m not right on the top of my game, then the morning will go wrong. All that Youngest is thinking is that he would like to wake up, and play with either Lego or the tablet. To be honest, he’s normally not even that bothered about breakfast.
In essence children are quite simple. They want to feel safe and loved, have enough to eat and drink and enough fun things to do to occupy their brains. Pretty much, most of the time, that’s all they want. As I said before, if they don’t get these things then they are unhappy, and depending on age they will express that in any way from “bad” behaviour to complaining or being non-compliant. I’ve observed that often grown-ups tend to embroider these basic needs with their own problems – saying things like “he’s just being defiant” or “she’s just doing that to wind me up”.
So, that’s where I’m at. I do have bad days and yell at the kids, but I’m starting to see that they usually happen when I’m not on top form for some reason or other. I’m being more accepting that some things will not happen or will happen late. Another thing is that, especially towards the end of term, life becomes really pressured. Here’s a shocking thought – I don’t have to do everything. Sometimes I say no. And that takes the pressure off me, which ripples through the family and makes things better.
What do you do? How do you resolve conflicts?