Children lack power. They can control very little in their lives, until they get a license to drive and the keys to the car. So, when they don’t get choices, they seek power; they just find ways to push our buttons, in the hope that perhaps we will give them choices. You can’t blame them for wanting to have a little control over their lives. They are human (most of the time ☺), and humans by nature want freedom, even if it’s just a bit here and there. But when humans are backed into a corner and have no choices, they rebel. They find a way – any way – to get a little power, a little control, a little something that makes life more enjoyable for them.
“Children, quite naturally, find out that parents are defenseless against disrespect. Thus parents are terrified by it…So we need a way to manage ourselves so these guys will have no success in pushing our buttons, no matter which way they poke and prod our psyche…” (Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk p.101)
Before you can give a child a choice, whether it’s in the classroom or in the car, you have to be in control of yourself. You cannot, must not, give children choices (power) because you are sick of hearing them whine and complain. Instead, you have to get yourself into neutral gear, not frazzled, fried, or frustrated. That’s easy to say, but what do you do when your child (or student) is angry and you are losing patience? You have to downshift. Decelerate.
“When your child wants to argue with you, these one-line phrases are your best friend. They are your sanity. They are a way for you to kick your brain into neutral while the other person is trying to drive you into the Crazy Ditch. They help you become sort of like a cloud, something that doesn’t react – something that cannot be controlled. When your kid is throwing a fit, it is absolutely the worst time to have a reasonable conversation with that person. Your child is absolutely emotionally wasted. Your child is not looking for solutions at this time; he or she is looking for victims. This is a good time to just be a cloud. Say, “I know. I’m sorry.” You are telling your child, ‘I am going to manage me while you struggle with you.’” (104-105)
To decelerate an argument, you have to stop lecturing and start giving very short responses to your child’s complaining, whining, worrying, and begging.
Here are some other key phrases (some from Danny Silk), which will decelerate an argument:
• I know.
• I’m sorry.
• Oh no.
• That’s a bummer.
• I don’t know.
• Probably so.
• What do you think you can do about it?
• How can I help you fix your problem?
You are not giving in. You are strong, firm, and in control, but you are not fighting. You are not giving in. “You are the IRS. You are a force to be reckoned with. You are the ruler of the house, and you are kind about it and you’re gentle.” (125)
You are just trying to defuse the situation and get your thoughts together. You are thinking about how you can give your child some choices, which will please you and them. You are searching for win-win situations. And ideally, you will merely help them solve their own problems.
“We give our children real choices when we show them two ways to get something done and either way is fine with us…We can empower them to make good choices by offering two powerful choices…Make sure that your child understands the choices being offered…Have a plan to enforce your choices with consequences.” (120-122) “Remember, consequences are some of the best teachers.” (143)
So, I am not advocating giving in to all the wishes of children or fixing all their problems. Absolutely not! But I do believe that you should listen to their problem and seriously consider how you can help them solve their own problems. And you should listen to their wishes and try to give them real choices which are good for them, whichever ones they choose.
Kids need to be heard, they need to be given choices, and they need to learn to solve their own problems. Parents, teachers, and coaches need to be in charge, under control, and training kids to grow up well, not spoiled or neglected. It’s not easy, especially when you are on the edge of the crazy ditch, but in the long run, your kids will learn to flourish with real freedom.