HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 20, 2006, Herald Journal

Minimizing conflicts


Picking out what they want to wear (no matter what it may look like), what they want to eat, etc. are just some of the ways our children want to exert their independence, express their assertiveness, and test the limits.

As parents and caregivers, we have all been there, and will continue to be there as long our children are growing and maturing. Sometimes, those acts of assertiveness can become struggles and turn into conflicts and can test our patience.

As our children grow, those power struggles may change from what socks to wear as a toddler to where they want to go on Saturday night as a teenager. It is mainly about independence and our children wanting to exert it and be their own persons.

When children are little, they quickly learn that they are “separate” from their parents, and that they also can use the word “No!” As they grow, they find great joy in continuing to exert that independence. As teenagers, they are still on the path of learning about themselves, being their own person and taking ownership in that.

All of this exertion of power and independence is healthy, but it can be difficult for us as parents and very trying. Sometimes it can be difficult to let go a little. We have to remember that our children still need us at all stages of their development for guidance, support and that unconditional love.

And experts say children’s desire for autonomy and identity is a healthy desire. We shouldn’t do for our children what they can do for themselves (even though it may take longer).

We want our children to be self-reliant and to become independent thinkers. Children learning to do skills on their own are certainly positive self worth and self esteem builders. We don’t want to be tying their shoes when they are teenagers and are capable of doing it for themselves. Getting to those stages, though, can be both wonderful and frustrating all at the same time.

And the struggles that we, as parents, experience with our children are natural, Child Development specialist Polly Greenberg noted in an article on Setting Limits.

There are things that we can do as parents to minimize those conflicts and power struggles. I will focus on strategies for dealing and minimizing struggles with teenagers in a future article.

• Dr. Greenberg says to maintain a schedule and offer choices within the schedule, such as reading a book or playing a game. Children do need and want to know what to expect, but allowing them to make some choices and increasing those choice opportunities as they get older certainly helps them attain that sense of ownership.

When children feel that sense of ownership, they are more likely to positively follow the guidelines. That’s true for us as adults. It also makes them feel that we value what they have to contribute. We certainly want our children to be contributing members of society.

• Allowing our children in decision-making is important. There are many opportunities and situations that our children can participate in helping make decisions, such as what vegetable would be good to serve at dinner? Even when taking a vacation, allow children to help in some of the planning, such as the activities that your family will participate in while on vacation, etc.

• Allow our children to play freely every day. Children need to express themselves and learn through play. When children have been in school in a structured setting all day, they also need some free time as well. Again, we all do.

• Have a family dinner time as much as possible, to allow for family share time and a regular schedule routine. Having regular bath and bedtime routines are important as well.

• Give instructions sparingly. Express the instructions clearly, simply and in a calm, firm voice, Greenberg says. If we are always issuing orders, children will stop paying attention, and if we say too much, children get lost in the instructions and may be unable to follow directions.

• Keep your word and be consistent. We need to do what we say we are going to do or our children will learn to ignore us and not value what we have to say.

Greenberg says that not following through and being inconsistent about whether you mean it or not, a soft limit, are two major mistakes adults make with children. I would gather to say that we have all been guilty of those crimes.

• We need to play with our children every day and show them that just because we are adults and parents, doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun! Add some fun into doing chores with your child. When you are raking, take some time to jump in the leaves and laugh! We all know a little laughter goes a long way and can many time break the ice and the struggle!

Source: Polly Greenberg, Scholastic Parent & Child, Sept. 2006 as well as parent experience, trials, tribulations, and success.

Don’t forget to jump in the leaves before they all blow away. Laugh a little (or a lot) too!