Children go through phases of parental opposition. Toddlers learn the word no, which quickly becomes the go-to response for even the simplest of requests. At kindergarten age, kids learn to voice their opinions. “I don’t want to eat vegetables mom!” Maybe even, “Dad, that’s not how my teacher said to do my math.” As preteens they question how in touch you are with today’s world, and as teenagers, they blatantly disregard your guidance. Every parent has endured these stages and every child has participated in at least a few of the scenarios above. All of them are developmentally normal. But normal doesn’t equal easy. Disagreements get more difficult to handle the older your child gets, but there are helpful approaches to diffusing, instead of escalating, arguments.
Listen and Validate
The first step is simply to listen. No matter how you personally feel about what your children or teens have to say, the least you can do is listen. Listening requires an open mind, positive body language and responses of acknowledgement. We give our spouses, colleagues and friends the respect of feeling heard, even in moments of discord, so we owe our children nothing less. After allowing them to voice their thoughts it’s important to validate their feelings. Remember that validation isn’t synonymous with agreement. It’s possible to let your children know that their feelings are valid without agreeing with their method of expression or the thought process that led them to their conclusion.
Explain Your Perspective
Now that you’ve taken the time to listen, the next step is to explain your perspective. You may have very strong opinions about how your children are acting or the things they’ve said, but try your best to take a deep breath before sharing your opposition. Explosive anger will only breed an equally volatile response. The goal is to bring peace and offer the most reasonable solution. Be concise. No one enjoys hearing a long drawn out explanation of why they are wrong. Instead of belaboring the point, try using phrases that provide clarity in the most tolerable form. If your children attempt to interrupt you while you are sharing your thoughts, now is the time to nip that habit in the bud. Just as you gave them a chance to speak without interruption, they now need to do the same. If they are doing it to you, they are accustomed doing it to other people as well. Remember that these moments of opposition provide wonderful teaching opportunities to model healthy communication skills.
The last step is to extend an olive branch of love. Whether that be a hug, kind word or a trip for ice cream. Whatever best fits your family dynamic will suffice. After heated exchanges, both parties’ feathers may be a little ruffled. As the parent it’s your responsibility to take the high road and spearhead efforts to soothe any remaining animosity. At the end of the day you both love each other and desire a harmonious coexistence. You won’t always walk away in agreement, but you will always have love to fallback on.
Raising children is tough. As they age, they begin to form opinions that are just as strong as yours. Fortunately, if you rely on the techniques above, your family will learn that disagreements don’t need to lead to heated debates that end in hurt feelings. Embrace your role as the best example your children have and be the change you wish to see.