Parenting & Managing Conflict with Our Children
A Relational Approach Parenting is truly one of the most amazing and difficult endeavors in the world. Bearing the responsibility to care for and shape a life is no small task, especially considering a major element of it centers on managing conflict with our children. My experience as a Marriage & Family Therapist is that handling those conflicts well requires the establishment of a relationship directed approach with our children. Tuttle et al. (2012) described this type of approach as the following: “Relationship-directed parent–child orientations value shared power and relational responsibility. Parents listen and respond to the child and teach their children to also be aware of their influence on others, including the parent. Parents engage in the relationship as a person” (p. 81). This style of parenting involves a distinct difference between having conversations and issuing commands when addressing conflict with our children. Conversations are relational in nature, and require valuing and understanding their perspectives, while lovingly helping them understand our own. Commands are directive in nature, and simply require our children to respond without any attempts to engage, understand, and address any core issues at hand. A Biblical Consideration Much of what we’re addressing here relates to the biblical notion found in Matthew 7:12. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” As mothers and fathers, we must be willing to recognize that treating our children tenderly and respectfully, and approaching them relationally in conversation, is more than some strategy found in a parenting book. It’s about living a life that exemplifies how they can honor God, honor themselves, and honor others to the greatest degree possible. Treating them the way we want to be treated is about a close as we get to living a life that successfully accomplishes that aim. In essence, we take parenting to a higher level or calling. Remaining Calm Matthew 7:12 never applies more than when we’re trying to help our children navigate something they deem to be critical or important to them, and which at times may seem completely irrelevant to us. It can be easy to become frustrated and lose our temper in such moments, but doing so rarely enables us to address the situation well. In fact, it will likely cause the situation to escalate, requiring even more emotional energy to calm ourselves and our children down. We get so much further with our children, situationally and conversationally, when we remain calm and approach them from that emotional vantage point. Remember, people innately desire to be treated lovingly and respectfully, and recoil at the notion of interacting with highly reactive individuals. This holds true whether you’re five or thirty five years of age. Therefore, we do well to consider the following questions as parents: “Am I treating my child the way I would want to be treated?” “Am I treating them the way I would want them to treat me?” “Have I tried to understand and help them explain why they are upset or resistant to what I’m asking?” These important questions challenge us to set an emotional boundary within ourselves, and to remain calm and focused on handling conflicts with our children in a loving, supportive, and nurturing manner. They further challenge us to model for them the behaviors we would like them to integrate within themselves over time. Consider the Consequences One of the last things we may feel like doing when managing conflict with our children is having a conversation with them. It often feels easier to issue commands, particularly when we’re exhausted from long work days and have little energy left to manage our kids screaming, fighting, running through the house with all the speed and energy of Sonic the Hedgehog, and getting mad at us because we’ve asked them to stop. The reality is our children are going to resist the boundaries we’ve implemented at various points in time, sometimes by yelling, crying, or maybe even accusing us of being horrible parents. Our responses in those moments will largely determine what they learn about us and how to work through interpersonal difficulties within our family system. In other words, we need consider the short and long-term consequences of our actions from an emotional and relational perspective. Pursue Understanding If we consistently engage our children conversationally, remain calm, and aim to understand why they are upset about a particular situation, we model for them the following: We’re safe to talk with about their emotions and difficult situations. We value staying calm and caring for one another. What is important to them, emotionally and situationally, is important to us. Our family works things out conversationally, versus by issuing commands. It may seem that pursuing understanding takes more of our time and energy. However, I would challenge this notion by stating it is far more emotionally taxing to engage in conflict with our kids, than it does to actually converse with and aim to understand them. A Willingness to Repair Attempting to have conversations with our children doesn’t mean the potential for strong emotions, conflict, and flaring tempers magically disappears. Yeah, right. We’re human, we’re going to mess things up. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t work to make things right with them. With humility and God’s grace we can face our children, acknowledge our mistakes, and seek their forgiveness. Being committed to this process of reconciliation is powerful in it’s own right, because it allows us to demonstrate to our children that we’re aware of our imperfections, but we’re not so afraid of them that we’re unwilling to confront them when needed. In essence, we model for them what it means to courageously and lovingly admit our wrongs within our family unit, and in doing so provide an example of how to do the same themselves. Summary In conclusion, let us remember Proverbs 15:1 when addressing conflict with our children. “A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Combined with treating them as we would like to be treated, we institute a powerful approach to parenting that ultimately benefits and strengthens our relationship. This is especially true, when addressing difficult moments with them. Eric Gomez is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in building families, strengthening marriages and addressing the personal, relational, and cultural harms of pornography. He received his graduate degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University and his undergraduate degree in Psychology from New Mexico State University.