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(13) Parents & Kids

 What You Can Do: Express Yourself Honestly Without Evaluation or Fault-Finding

You can’t make your kids do anything. All you can do is make them wish they had. And then, they will make you wish you hadn’t made them wish they had.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

Instead of labeling your children as good, bad, lazy, industrious, smart, or stupid, share with them clear observations (without labels and evaluations) about what you see them doing and how it affects you. Instead of saying your son is irresponsible, unpack the label and talk about the behaviors you have seen that lead you to want to use the word. Perhaps your son forgets his lunch in the morning, leaves his coat at school, forgets to turn in his homework, and so on. Now you have something to talk about with your son that he can understand.

Instead of calling your daughter uncaring because she isn’t feeding the dog every night as you had agreed, you can make an observation: I appreciate that four out of seven nights last week you fed the dog without any reminders. I feel very happy when everyone is keeping agreements and working together to take care of things around the house. You can then talk about how you feel when observing that on other nights, you reminded her to feed the dog: I feel worried realizing that three nights last week you didn’t feed the dog until after I reminded you. I would like to feel confident that the dog would be fed every night even if I weren’t here to remind you. I wonder if you can think of a way to remember to feed the dog every night? It may be that reminding your child is actually the best strategy for now; however, exploring possibilities in this respectful way is more likely to engage willing co-operation than calling her uncaring, lazy, or irresponsible would be.

You can’t make your kids do anything. All you can do is make them wish they had. And then, they will make you wish you hadn’t made them wish they had.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

 Rewards and Punishments

Rewards and punishments are standard fare in power-over parenting. They are, in fact, necessary measures when your aim is to get kids to do something against their will. Rewards and punishment are the opposite of respect and co-operation and will result in endless power struggles.

High costs of both punishment and reward:

They undermine a child’s sense of safety and trust.

They encourage children to work for rewards or to avoid punishment instead of doing things because they have intrinsic value to them.

They take away a child’s pleasure in doing what you ask.

They take away a child’s desire to co-operate with you.

They teach children to reward and punish others to get what they want.

Deciding not to use punishment or rewards to coerce your kids to do what you want them to do does not mean that you will permit any kind of behavior or give up on what you need. Respectful interactions mean that each person’s needs are valued and taken into consideration with the intent of meeting as many needs as possible.

Punitive vs. Protective Use of Force

There are times when force is needed to protect people or things that you value. If your child starts to rip up a book, by all means, hold her until she calms down enough to talk together. In this case, force is used for the purpose of protecting something you value, not punishing a wrongdoer. Instead of lecturing her (You shouldn’t hurt books. That’s not okay.) you can empathize first, either out loud or silently (depending on how upset your child is, her age, and what you think would bring the most connection):

Are you feeling frustrated and need to let some energy out? If so, I’d like to help you do this in a way that doesn’t hurt you or something I care about… If there is no criticism, blame, or fault-finding in your message, and you remember that every action is an attempt to meet a need, your daughter will be more open to talking about the needs she was trying to meet by ripping the book. Knowing her need, you can then co-operate to discuss other strategies that would fulfill her needs without hurting anything. This kind of conversation that everyone learns from cannot happen as long as your goal is to inflict pain for a wrong your daughter has committed. If she thinks she is going to be punished, she is likely to shut down or lash out in fear, anger, resentment, and discouragement. Her thoughts are more likely to be about how to get even with you rather than about what she can do differently in the future. And, if you are focused on punishment, you may never get to the reason why she did this in the first place and she may continue to rip things up in the future. Wouldn’t you prefer that your daughter stop her behavior because she knows people will listen to her when she wants to speak rather than because she is afraid of what will happen to her if she destroys things?




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