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Avoiding Arguments and Power Struggles with Your Kids

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How to Correct Your Child Without an Argument
Giving verbal corrections is difficult. Verbal correction can turn into arguments, especially if you get angry. Yelling, scolding, and threatening help you vent your anger, but they do not correct misbehavior. Sometimes they make the misbehavior worse.

Stay calm. Tell your children to stop. Be ready to enforce a punishment if you must. Do not become caught in the cycle of yelling and threatening. You do not want to spend the rest of your life that way. Getting angry and yelling makes arguments worse. If your child's goal is to push your buttons and get you angry, yelling is a reward for misbehaving. Yelling will strengthen unwanted behavior.

How can you correct your children and avoid arguments? Verbal corrections are part of good discipline. The purpose of verbal corrections is to teach better decision making. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Begin by validating your relationship: "You are my son and I love you. Nothing you do will ever change that."
  2. State your concern: "Your behavior at the store was not acceptable. I was embarrassed."
  3. Remind your child of previous good behavior: "That's not like you. You are always very well behaved when we go shopping."
  4. Separate your child from his behavior. Say, "That behavior is unacceptable." Do not say, "Anyone who would do that is stupid."
  5. React appropriately to the size of the problem. If your child misbehaves while shopping, restrict him from shopping: "You can't go shopping with me for two weeks. You will have to stay home. I hope that when you can come with me again, you will behave."
Do not ask why. Children misbehave because they choose to misbehave. When you ask why, you are suggesting there may be an excuse: "Why did you do that?" "He told me to do it." Clever children will search for excuses until they come up with one that you accept. If you don't accept it, you then have a power struggle on your hands.

Realize that an upset child is not a good listener. This is not the time for constructive communication. Wait until he cools off.

Teach your children to learn from their mistakes rather than suffer from them. Point out things they do wrong by showing them ways to do it better: "You remembered to take out the garbage. Good going. The twist ties need to be a little tighter next time. I'll show you how."

Admit you are wrong once in a while. This is a tough one. Your children will learn from your example. When you openly admit your mistakes and weaknesses, you are showing them that grown-ups are not perfect. We don't know everything. Anthony attended a meeting I had with a proofreader of this book. He could not believe that she had so many suggestions. It was good for him to see that his dad is not perfect. It was also good for him to see that I did not take the corrections personally. I explained that she was helping me make the book better. I showed him that it's okay to make errors.

Do not carry on about small mistakes; deal with it and then let it go. The purpose of verbal corrections is to have a more cooperative youngster. Misbehaviors and mistakes are normal. You can help your child best by minimizing problems. Do not dwell on them, or rehash the day's problems with your spouse in front of your child. Children cannot build on weaknesses. They can only build on strengths.

These same ideas apply when your children are arguing with each other. Stay calm and do not make threats. If you can, help your children reach a settlement. Brandon and Marie have been arguing for ten minutes. Dad has had enough. Finally, he gets angry. He yells, "Stop or you will both go to bed."

Most children will quiet down for a while when threatened. Unfortunately, Dad thinks that yelling works. This is a mistake. Yelling works temporarily, but the quiet will not last. Yelling and threatening have no long-term effect on misbehavior. The children argue; Dad yells; they quiet down for a while. Soon, they argue again. Dad yells. They quiet down again. This can go on and on. These children will learn that they can argue until Dad yells at them to stop. They will not learn to solve their problems.

A little humor may help. Here is a way to neutralize arguments in the car. Whenever you are on a trip and the children start to argue, ask them to stop. If they don't stop, begin talking about a trip for parents only. "This explains why so many parents leave their children at home. Next trip, let's go somewhere romantic." When children hear this, they get the point.

When Children Get Even
When a child feels hurt or angry, he may want to get even. He wants to hurt you. Getting even takes away some of his hurt and anger. Getting even makes children feel that justice has been served. Revenge is important to children because of their keen sense of fairness.

Revenge can destroy relationships between parents and children. This is especially true of teenagers. Some children embarrass you in front of others. Some children strike out at something that is special to you. Some children hurt a younger brother or sister. Some children run away. Some children will break a window or break something of value. I once worked with a mother who had a vengeful teenage son. One day she came home to find that he had thrown all of her fine china and crystal glasses into the street. Revenge is not pleasant.

Revenge typically begins when you punish your child for something he believes is unfair. He decides to get even with you by misbehaving again. He pushes your buttons. You get angry and punish again. He strikes back again. The cycle of retaliation begins.

Breaking the Cycle of Retaliation
The target of your child's revenge is your feelings. A child who wants to get even wants to hurt you. If he does, he has achieved his payoff. Some parents lack self-confidence about their skills as a parent. Clever children realize this and take full advantage of the parent's weakness.

Revenge-seeking children know exactly where to strike. They say things such as, "I hate you. You're a terrible mother." The reason for these remarks is to make you feel hurt. You feel that you have failed your children. They want you to feel inadequate and guilty.

When you feel inadequate or guilty, you begin to question your own judgments. Then you begin to give in. There is nothing a revenge-seeking child would like more than for you to become inconsistent. This is the payoff they are looking for.

Believe in your own abilities, and you will not become the victim of your child's revenge. Support yourself. When your child strikes at your buttons, remain strong. Tell yourself that you are a good parent-you are doing the best you can.

Be positive when disciplining your children. Do not criticize. Be sure that punishments are fair and that they make sense to your child. Punishments should not humiliate or embarrass your child. Punishment should be mild. They should teach your child to make better decisions. Do not use punishment to get even with your child for something he has done that hurts you or makes you angry.

Control yourself. Do not let him push your buttons. Have faith in your judgment. Do not give in to arguments like: "Taylor's mom lets him watch R-rated movies." Do not reward your child's revenge. The more confidence you have, the easier it will be for you to win your child's cooperation.

Many parents measure their worthiness by their children's success: "If I am a good parent, why are my kids so bad?" They feel that if their children are not perfect, then they must be less than adequate as parents. By believing this, you are making yourself vulnerable to your children. You become an easy target for any child looking for a button to push.

Think about the reasons you might feel this way. Are you insecure about yourself? Do you feel this way because of your spouse? Is this a leftover belief from your relationship with your parents? Think about your strengths rather than your insecurities. The more you focus on your strengths, the more confident you will become. Stay calm when your child says, "I hate you." Say, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I have to do what's right."

Being a good parent does not always mean that you will be your child's best friend. There have been times when my children have been angry at me. I do not like how it feels, yet I am not going to give in to their demands. I am not going to criticize myself. Ten years from now they will not remember the time I would not let them watch an R-rated movie. But they will remember my commitment to them. I am going to support myself because I know that what I am doing is best.

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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright � Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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