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Parenting can feel like an extended battle at times. A war of attrition, with children pushing back against unreasonable parental demands such as wearing a coat when its raining, and putting the damn phone away at the table. To paraphrase the song, from the time they could talk, we ordered them to listen … and to do what they were told.
Last week, I really enjoyed Rebecca’s post on how to apologise. She talked about how apologising even when you don’t feel you are in the wrong may aid communication. It’s not just a colleague or a friend that this works well on, but also with our kids. Some parents have a feeling that if they let their kids win, that they’ve lost, but in actual fact everyone wins.
An apology, even when you feel it shouldn’t be you that does it, can be a way of re-opening communication.
When my kids were younger, there was a time when I felt that I was failing. My son wouldn’t do what he was told, was rude and incredibly huffy, and would have massive tantrums if I tried to get him to do such things as putting his shoes on and leaving for school.
A friend recommended the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and this book changed everything, as I’ve talked about before. As my kids grow into their teenage years, the methods I learned back then still serve me well, and I’ve even learned a few tricks of my own. Or rather, of my husbands.
It was in the middle of an argument, when I was trying to persuade my son to do something. My mother would say that its divine punishment, that I have a stubborn as a mule son, as I was known for my unbending and uncompromising mind as a teen. I can’t even remember what we were arguing about, but it was nothing serious. My husband pulled me aside and told me to let him have his way. He noted that our son had set out pretty good arguments, and hadn’t resorted to crying, whinging, stamping of feet or huffing and puffing. He’d calmly argued his case.
How do you expect them to learn how to negotiate, if you never let them win an argument, and you always have the last word?
Ouch. Talk about putting a mirror in front of my face! I do like to win arguments, and I don’t like to give in. Looks like that stubbornness wasn’t left behind when I left my teenage years. In this instance, I had to give in twice – once to my husband, and then again to my son.
Giving in to your kids is not a surrender. This doesn’t mean that parents are creating a rod for their own back, or raising little dictators, as some may suggests. There are great benefits, when parents are strong enough to take a step back.
The Benefits of Letting Kids Win
They learn to negotiate with words, not tears or fists
“Persuade me with words”, is a sentence that I say often. Children who learn the art of negotiation at home will find it easier in school and later in life in their careers. It doesn’t have to be a well-thought out and argued position; this isn’t debate club. Ask them to explain their reasoning, and be quiet until they’ve finished. Don’t interrupt or dismiss their opinions.
They learn self-control
This is a really tricky one. My son would sit at the table and frown, then literally huff and puff. Or he would turn away from me, and not look at me. My rule is that I won’t listen to an argument that is directed at the wall. We’ve worked on getting him to count to ten, so that he can control his anger or upset, and then he is able to set out his argument.
They know they are valued
I’ve talked before about the ‘square’ analogy – that our family is four corners of a square, and we are equal. If one corner is stronger than the others, it pulls the square out of shape, and it falls over. Every opinion in the family is valued, and we work together to keep the square square.
They gain a sense of control
Not only self-control, but they also gain a knowledge that they are in control of their life, which leads them to becoming more independent.
It boosts self-confidence
There is nothing quite like the feeling of having won an argument, and that feeling is even better when it’s been done using reasoning and negotiation. It gives kids a huge boost to know that they are capable of changing their parent’s mind, and they’ll use the skills learned in the future.
Limits to Letting them Win
Are there times when you can’t let a child win? Well, of course. If the child would be put in a position of danger, then you should remain firm. Particularly teens are prone to making risky decisions, and may need to be reigned in. Decisions made out of a place of anger and frustration need to be talked through, and this is where it helps if they’ve started learning to communicate and negotiate when they were younger. If they don’t feel that they are constantly battling against you, then the likelihood of getting through to them is higher.
Taking a step back is always difficult, but when you do this, you are also modelling behaviour to your child, that will help them in their life. They will learn that ‘giving in’ isn’t always negative, and that compromises can be reached when both sides are willing to try. Our aim is to raise confident, independent thinkers, who take responsibility for their actions and respect the wishes of others – what better way to teach this than to show them how well it can work.
Great post by Carolyn Ward, on our magazine for kids, teaching kids how to negotiate. See also the post on being a good communicator.