Communication Versus Control

16 May

{This post is part of a recurring series of thoughts about control and children.}

As parents, we need to clearly articulate our concerns so our children know what is driving our decisions and what is most important to us, and then we have to really listen to their feedback. Listening is crucial. In most cases, children will be willing to modify their behavior with a greater sense of accommodation and acceptance if the parent truly listens to the child’s thoughts and interests. Both parties gain some understanding of what the other needs, not necessarily what the other party wants. This is one of the most important and critical building blocks for mutual respect. The parent needs to go into this type of conversation with a flexible defense, but it should not be a negotiation either. The initial intent should be to gather information without necessarily abandoning either position, especially if either party has a strong feeling about the specific issue. Most children are generally willing to accommodate their parents’ rules (although with normal reluctance and most likely some grumping), if they understand some of the reasoning behind them. They genuinely believe their parent has their best interests at heart and kids actually want to believe this.

In my previous post, I spoke of a situation between a daughter and her mother that showed the result of too much control. The daughter did not even want to open up a discussion because she was convinced her mother was going to be unreasonable no matter what she said. Therefore, she would risk being caught rather than become bound by rules that she believed were unfair. In essence, however, both lose. The child carries a considerable amount of anxiety about being caught and hence compromises the very freedom she is risking. The parent is under the illusion that she has the situation under control, when, in fact, the child is out doing whatever she wants, perhaps even acting out her frustrations in more dramatic and dangerous ways than she would otherwise.

If the child gets into trouble, it is highly possible she will be reluctant to call home for help unless the situation becomes unreasonably dangerous. This is definitely not the type of control a parent has in mind, nor the end game. When parents try to impose an operating structure on their kids based mostly on the parent’s comfort level, it will often trigger a counter-response that may escalate into a more complex situation that could generate considerable and adversarial tension. It happens all the time. This could quite easily grow into an untenable situation that might require intervention (police, principals, other parents), which can lead to even bigger challenges for everybody involved, ultimately creating long periods of hardship, anxiety, and emotional distress; none of which is much fun or the desired outcome. There are many challenges that we, as parents, will not be able to avoid. However, intensifying them by not fully understanding both sides of an issue is definitely avoidable. Most parents navigate through these times with true understanding and sensitivity. We have to be aware that kids will inevitably challenge our rules and decisions, which is quite normal.

Please check back with me on 5/17/2012 for more on this topic! Until then, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

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