Pirate Diplomacy

Photo by Tai Gray

It was one of those idealistic parenting moments. I was in the kitchen washing dishes, and all four of my children were happily playing together in the living room.

The game of the moment was a pirate one, and there were plenty of giggles amidst the “Arghs.” In one of my glances, I saw my eight year old wielding a foam sword in perfect form. Another time, my three year old was proclaiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts (I’ve mentioned we are a family of bibliophiles). The throw pillows morphed into a gang plank and the fish in our aquariums were hungry sharks.

As the climax of the game approached, I heard something that made me pause. “Send in the baby! He won’t harm her.” I had to laugh at my son’s use of diplomacy.

setting limits…

There is a difference between wanting to know the limits of another person’s acceptance and of having another person set a limit on one’s self. The difference is where the power lies. If we enforce our own limits, we exhibit self-control and encourage and enable our children to do the same. When we attempt to limit another person, we are attempting to control them; that in itself is both impossible and unhealthy.

training daughters…

A coworker was relegating to my husband at work about an incident he had experienced with his teenage daughter the night before. He had been yelling at her for something when she said something he felt was in a disrepectful tone – backtalk, at which point he slapped her across the face hard. I can only imagine what my husband’s face looked like at that revelation. His coworker went on to explain that he hated to do it but that it had to be done. My husband made a sarcastic comment about training daughters for how they should be treated by men and then said he wanted better for his daughter.

Children come into this world unknowing of the world or its inhabitants. They haven’t yet learned of social graces or how to interact with others. They learn these things by watching us. How we treat others, especially the ones we love, has a lasting effect. It shapes not only how our children treat others but also how they allow others to treat them.

A strong, confident, loved woman doesn’t suddenly allow a man to hit her and accept that that is the way of life. Abused women, and those who abuse them, have learned somewhere along the way that it is acceptable or that they are an undeserving exception. Most fathers would protect their daughters from some other man hitting them, and yet many of these same men are teaching their daughters that being hit, being belittled and degraded, by a man is acceptable.

take a deep breath…

Everyone tends to get frustrated at times. Our family is no exception. Whenever that happens, we remind each other, regardless of age, to take a deep breath.

Taking a deep breath helps to calm us. The physical act of deeply filling one’s lungs and exhaling reduces stress. When stressed, we breathe in short, shallow breaths; deep breaths help to relax us. Breathing deeply also releases endorphins which help us to better deal with stress. It helps us to clear and focus our minds.

The time it takes to take a deep breath also breaks the current cycle of reactive thought. We can once again focus on finding a solution rather than expending all of our thought and energy on our frustration.

positive direction…

Photo by dktrpepr (flickr)

Everyone likes to feel that they have a purpose in life. Generally speaking, people want to be helpful, needed, and a contributing member of society (or a family). Sometimes knowing how to go about that is difficult. It can be even more so when you are small and have seemingly little to offer. When this need to help is not being met, it can manifest itself in less than desirable behaviors.

My three year old is going through a phase right now. He is aware and proud of his independence but still needs help with many things. He wants to contribute to our family but doesn’t always know how. Sometimes this presents as him following a family member around, most notably an older sibling or his father, and acting in ways they don’t appreciate. Asking him to stop doesn’t help with his needs. Instead, it is times like these that he seems to need some positive direction.

Positive direction differs from redirection; positive direction directs the person to an idea or outlet that meets their unmet need. When my son begins bothering someone in our family, I’ve found it very beneficial to help him with some positive direction. Simply put, I ask him if he would like to help me with something. That one simple question, regardless of what it is, is enough to meet his need to help out. It doesn’t matter if he helps me make cookies, wash walls, or pick up toys. He is a contributing member of our family and happy to be so. Of course, there is also the added benefit of some special time with a parent.

cooperation is a survival skill…

Cooperation has long been a survival skill. Tribal communities have utilized cooperation in order to meet everyone’s needs for millenia. With the advent of nuclear families, the focus on such cooperation took a back seat. Once again, with the increasingly interconnectedness of our society, it is once again becoming readily apparent that cooperation, along with communication, are vitally important to our species. Cooperation begins at home.

coping mechanisms to parental power…

Children’s coping mechanisms to deal with parental power:

  • Resistance, defiance, rebellion, and negativity. People will fight back when their freedom is threatened.
  • Resentment, anger, and hostility. People want to be in control of themself. When others hold power over them, they feel resentful.
  • Aggression, retaliation, and striking back. Parental domination via authority leads to frustration. Frustration in turn can lead toward aggression. If you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. 
  • Lying or hiding feelings. People may lie to avoid punishment. Lying is a learned response and not a normal part of life.
  • Blaming others, tattling, and cheating. When multiple people are competing for rewards or to avoid punishment, they may resort to trying to make others look bad in an attempt to make themselves look good. Punishments and rewards promote competitive behavior ina family rather than cooperation.
  • Dominating, bossiness, and bullying. Children may attempt to dominate smaller or younger children based on the power over behavior modeled by parents.
  • Needing to win and hating to lose. A person may develop a strong desire to win and look good and want to avoid looking bad losing or looking bad. Life becomes a competitive world with the child against everyone else. This is evident in reward-based families where the parents give out positive evaluation including but not limited to money, gold stars, sticker charts, and verbal rewards.
  • Forming alliances and organizing against parents. Children may band together and agree to tell the same story in order to avoid punishment. Instead of identifying with family, where authoritarian parents hold all of the power, children begin to identify instead with same age cohorts dealing with similar power struggles. They may feel pressure to do drugs, have sex before they are ready, skip responsiblities, or participate in illegal activities.
  • Submission, obedience, and compliance. Children may submit out of fear of punishment from parents. For some, this may suddenly switch to resistance and rebellion. Others will retain the intense fear of people in positions of power, passively submitting to authority, denying their own needs, afraid to be themselves, and avoiding conflict.
  • Courting favor. Some people will work to play up the authority figure and become a favorite or pet. They are often targeted by others.
  • Conformity, lack of creativity, fear of attempting anything new, and fear of failure. Creativity comes from a freedom to experiment and to try new things and combinations. The fear resulting from being powered over stifles creativity and results in conformity.
  • Withdrawing, escaping, fantasiing, and regression. A person who quits trying to cope with reality may withdraw in order to escape it. This can be manifested by daydreaming or fantasizing, inactivity, passivity, and apathy, regression to infantile behavior, excessive screen time, solitary play, sickness, running away, joining gangs, eating disorders, and depression.

conflict: the no-lose method (part4)…

The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows parents to discover what is really going on with the child. When you use your power to enforce your own solutions, you don’t unveil the true underlying feelings and needs. In order to deal with an issue, you have to know what the real problem is first. Once you have worked with your child to discover the cause of conflict, solutions generally become apparent.

Aspects of the no-lose method of conflict resolution:

  • Both parties possess equal or near equal power. Neither holds power over the other.
  • The solution must be acceptable to both parties. This is  method for finding solutions which work for everyone. This may look completely different in different families or with different individuals.
  • Involves the principle of participation. Individuals are more motivated to carry out decisions when they are involved in the decision making process. Less enforcement is required in order to implement the proposed plan because all parties are vested in the plan and the outcome.
  • Encourages and requires each involved party to think.
  • Results in less hostility from everyone because both parties are agreeing on a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties leave the situation feeling good because the conflict has been taken cre of and no party has lost, ultimately bringing them closer together. 
  • Eliminates the need for power. Both parties are working together toward a solution. There is no need to grapple for power and no need for coping mechanisms to deal with another person’s power. Allows each party to respect themself and the other person, allowing everyone to win.

The no-lose approach to conflict resolution treats children like people. Parents are able to communicate to their children that the children’s needs are important and that the children can also be trusted to be considerate of the parent’s needs.

conflict: parent 0, child 1 (part 3)…

The other win/lose method of conflict resolution involves the child winning while the parent loses, as seen in permissive parenting. In an effort not to be authoritarian, the parent does not enforce his/her own personal boundaries or talk to the child about behavior.

 These children are often wild, uncontrolled (self-control), and impulsive. Lacking the opportunity to think through conflict resolution, they disregard the needs of others, placing their needs above everyone else’s. They lack self-control and have a tendency to become  self-centered, selfish, and demanding. They have a difficult time relating to others and lack respect for other people’s property or feelings. At the same time, their parents’ lack of genuine expression of thoughts and feelings leads these children to doubt their parents’ professed love and become insecure.

Parents in this situation tend to become resentful of their child. Irritation and anger build. At that point, parents following this method will often resort to authoritarian parenting.

get real…

  I often hear parents giving the sage advice that in order to be effective, you must be consistent. When speaking about behavioral training, this is true. Clinical studies show that inconsistency causes anxiety, and in more extreme cases, neurosis. Parents who choose to use behavioral training with their children, also referred to as punishments and/or rewards, need to be consistent in order for these techniques to work. The problem with consistency is that it doesn’t exist. Situations, environments, people, feelings, and needs all change. We live in a dynamic world. What is acceptable in one situation may not be acceptable in another. In that light, it’s more important to take situations on a case by case basis. Eschew the punitive parenting and treat your children as people. You may not be able to be consistent, but you can be honest and real.