Got Battle Fatigue? Try These 5 Steps Next Time a Conflict Arises.

I don’t know about you, but I have battle fatigue. I am so sick of the hundreds of little daily struggles that can become epic emotional brawls in the blink of an eye. A request to brush teeth can turn into a power struggle that ends in tears and yelling. The teeth might get brushed eventually, but why does it have to take getting angry for that to happen?

I know this sounds familiar to many of you. The parents I coach all struggle with some degree of yelling and negative ‘reactivity’ to their children’s behaviors. I am no exception to the trap of reactivity either. When I get triggered – usually by a continual refusal to cooperate with what I believe are basic requests – it takes quite a conscious effort to slow myself down. My first reaction is to be frustrated, angry, and even incredulous. My thoughts say, “How dare she defy me!” or “What is her problem!”.

Such thoughts and feelings are all about me. In these moments, I’m not really considering the thoughts and feelings of my child. I’m not considering her internal world or how she’s experiencing this moment. I’m not looking for solutions or lessons to teach either. I am seeking to control the situation and to control my child. The problem with this is that we both feel badly with the outcome.

When I think about these power struggles, I realize there’s two ways I can handle them: I can use control or I can use connection.

Control seeks to use my power, size, and assumed superiority over my child to gain my desired outcome.

Connection seeks to relate to my child’s ‘in the moment’ experience and to find collaborative ways of moving forward toward a mutually amicable outcome.

I’ve been observing what works in my family to elicit more of the cooperation I desire, and I can tell you it is definitely the way of connection.

To keep myself on the path of connection, I try to follow these 5 steps when conflicts arise:

1. Calm Down: Slow down. Pause. Leave the room for a few minutes and take several deep breaths if I need to.

2. Connect: Connect with my feelings first. I notice how I feel in my body: tense, shaky, hot, weak, etc.
I notice my thoughts and feelings: tiredness, frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. Next, I connect with my child’s feelings using compassion and empathy. I validate the feelings we’re both having out loud to my child.

3. Clearing state expectations: Calmly, but firmly, I tell my child what I would like them to do. Again, I empathize. For example, I might say: “I know it’s hard to stop playing and get ready for bed. I understand you’re feeling _________ about that. Here’s what we need to do ___________.”

4. Collaborate/Compromise: I ask for my child’s ideas and thoughts. I’m open to problem-solving. Is there a creative solution? Is there a compromise? For example, I might say: “What can we do to help you get ready for bed?” or “Let’s show Bear-Bear how well you brush your teeth!”

5. Consequences: When your child still resists, you may need to discipline. Discipline should only come from the calm, centered place of connection. Consequences work best when they’re meaningful to the child and arise naturally from their choices. For example, I might say: “If you don’t brush your teeth now, there will only be time for one book tonight.”

If you’re still encountering resistance, go back to step one.

The really cool thing about these steps is they save me so much time! I might think “putting my foot down” and acting the tyrant will squash resistance and put an end to a disagreement, but that almost never happens. These 5 steps work to de-escalate the tension and focus our attention on what actually works. What I like best is that my children see me as their ally and partner in these situations, not the enemy that needs to be defeated.

The examples I give come from my experience with a toddler and a preschooler, but the basics of connection can and should be applied to any relationship. When I think of the classic image of a teenager and parent struggling for control, I picture backtalk, yelling, slamming doors, tears, and heaps of guilt. Not that much different from what we experience with young children.

The point is, children at any age almost never want to do what we tell them, but they almost always copy our actions. Parents can be assertive, strong leaders who their kids will want to follow when authority comes from a place of authentic connection, not from a place of superiority.

The importance of calming down before responding to difficult behaviors cannot be emphasized enough. You do that so the unconscious stuff like anger and bitterness don’t overwhelm you and get passed onto your children. But another important reason is to model for your kids good self-control and emotional regulation. Becoming more in touch with your feelings, allows you to better attune to your child’s feelings. Put simply, when you drop the superiority complex and start treating your children as real people with thoughts, feelings, and desires of their own, you’ll see big changes.

Yes, yelling can be effective in the moment. Fear works like a stun gun to temporarily silence children. But is that what we want? Obedience won by fear? Yelling is also just a quick fix; you’ll notice the bad behavior coming right back an hour later. To get your kids to listen to you and cooperate more, you’re going to have to invest in the relationship as it unfolds in the moment. As parents, we can lead our families using the principles of connection, rather than tools of dominance and control.

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