Some widely-accepted strategies to manage conflict are:
1. Separate the wrongdoer from the wrong.
2. Don’t accuse the person.
3. Talk about how the wrong action / words make you feel.
Okay, let’s dive in.
Your child is pushing your buttons. You’re determined to hold on to your temper. You say, “I get really upset when you hit your little brother. I wish you wouldn’t. You are his big sister, and you should be taking care of him, protecting him, not hitting him yourself. It would make me very happy if you stop hitting him.”
The next time she desists from hitting her brother, she will want your acknowledgement. “Dad is really happy you didn’t hit your brother. You made me very happy.”
Or else, “I get very angry when you throw your clothes and books all over the house. Please put your things away.”
You try to manage your child’s behavior from morning to night by telling him your reaction to specific behaviors of his. Some of his actions make you happy, others make you sad, yet others make you angry, still others disappoint you. This way, you try to teach him ‘acceptable’ behavior, and train him to live the way you’d like him to live.
What you might not realize is that you are also taking away all his power as an individual.
Look at the message he is getting: He makes you happy, or sad, or embarrassed, or proud, or confused, or hurt, or annoyed. And you? You’re just the puppet being jerked around at the end of a string. He’s the one making you feel all the emotions, so he has the power!
Hmm – maybe it’s the words; the words should change. Maybe you could say, “I feel happy or proud or furious when…” instead of “You make me feel…” But the message is still the same. Your child has the power to make you feel a certain way by behaving (or not) a certain way.
Very subtly, he is learning manipulation.
Why do children get away with throwing tantrums? (And tantrums of different kinds are thrown at different ages – this is not about the Terrible Twos alone. :-)) They do it in a very calculated fashion. They have calibrated, almost to the second, the moment when you will give in to them because you can’t take the tantrum any more. The tantrum might be yelling, spitting, banging, giving you the silent treatment, throwing things around, refusing to eat or go to school, not doing chores – whatever. But you let it get to you. So they manipulate you to get what they want from you.
Here’s an incident that always makes me smile when I think of it. 4-year old Lily, the youngest of the family, cried for minutes on end at the slightest impact. “It hurt!” she would wail, and only be mollified by large quantities of candy, cola and other ‘taboo’ foods.
One day, when she and Josh, her 8-year old brother, were the only ones at home, Josh heard a huge crash in the backyard. He was in the kitchen making a sandwich, and knew that Lily would be screaming in a moment. Surprisingly, there was no sound from her. He was just thinking of going out to investigate, when the door to the backyard opened, and Lily walked in, her knee bruised, blood dripping down her shin. Lily was startled to see Josh, and stopped mid-stride.
“You’re hurt? And you didn’t even shout once?” asked Josh, not really able to take in the phenomenon.
She said, “I didn’t know there was anyone around to hear me, so I didn’t yell.” 🙂 🙂
Kids are supreme manipulators.
Don’t let them get away with it. Just keep doing your thing. It won’t be easy, because they’ve trained you too well. 🙂 But you’re the adult here, and it’s time to take back your power. They may try to annoy you, but don’t be annoyed. You may be boiling, but try not to show it, and with time and practice, you’ll see how easy it is to stay cool.
She has a problem. She wants something. What if it had been someone else’s child? You’d just have left her alone and removed yourself from there. Well, go ahead and do it! The only one preventing you from doing so is yourself! Don’t play her game. Walk away. Do your own thing. It will take time, but she will slowly learn that she cannot ‘make’ you feel a specific emotion.
There are two wonderful results of not letting your child ‘make’ you feel a certain way.
For one, you will take back your own power. People and events have the power to affect you only so long as you let them. In the words of one anonymous person, if you’ve lost your job, your car has broken down, and you’re down with the flu, why make things worse by being depressed?
🙂 Okay, this is a clear exaggeration, but seriously, we make things a lot worse for ourselves than they need to be. You’re stuck in traffic. Worrying, abusing all and sundry, driving like a maniac – none of it will get you to your destination on time. It will take as long as it will take. Then why let it ruin your blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and mood? Why hold so much tension in your body that you’re aching all over when you reach? Only you know the answer to this one. But if you don’t have an answer, someday you might begin to realize you’re not playing it smart.
The other delightful outcome is that your child will also learn to be responsible for his emotions. Most importantly, he will learn to rely on himself for his happiness. Because you will have trained him, through your responses, that no one can ‘make’ anyone happy. People just are – happy or irritated or pleased or … This is a big one.
He will also be less likely to be manipulated.
The biggest immediate beneficiary is you. When you deny him, and he tries to give you the old: “I’m really sad because you aren’t letting me play my PSP”, you can give him the same logic in reverse.
“I’m not letting you play, but you don’t have to be sad about it. You’re just choosing to be sad.”
Your children will get it after a while, so long as you are consistent. They’re smart, you see! 🙂