by Dr. Richard Primason
If you are a parent, you may find your mental health and happiness sometimes compromised during conflicts with your children. In the entry below, Dr. Primason shares a wonderful way to work through challenging situations with your children that will strengthen your relationship and result in positive mental health and happiness for both of you.
In a previous entry I talked about the hazards of punishment, and the seductive appeal of it as a “go-to”child management technique. In short, punishment really works if all you want is a compliant child, and if you’re willing to overlook some nasty side effects.
Fortunately, Choice Theory gives us an elegant alternative to the punish/reward parenting style. I think of it as the choice position, and it’s exemplified by Dr. Glasser’s profound observation about parent-child interactions:
“… we can do things to our child, for our child, or with our child
– and the first two have very little value” (Choice Theory, 1998).
I look for the choice position in all my relationships, whenever a murky feeling tells me that a conflict is brewing. I try hard to shift my thinking away from…
“I know what’s best, this is how it’s going to be,”
and instead think,
“This really isn’t working well, let’s come up with something better — something that’s good enough for both of us.”
A lot of folks find it really tough to assume the choice position, because they believe it’s their duty to point out the “right and wrong”of things to their kids. But you’ll find it’s so much more effective to respect that your child’s “bad behavior”was his best attempt at the time. From there, a connected conversation is possible; you can talk with your child about the choice she made and her options for the future.
Here’s one specific technique that operates from the choice position. I call it planning together; it’s basically an invitation to create a new plan for the future.
“Neither of us are happy with this report card. Are you satisfied with how you’ve been studying? I’m sure not. Let’s come up with a better plan for this quarter.”
“Sneaking money from my wallet is a poor way to pay for things – I’ll bet we can find a better way for you to earn some money around here.”
This approach is very different from the control position,
“You’ve really messed up, now you’ll do things my way!”
It also carries a wonderfully optimistic message, that you’re confident that the two of you can work this thing out.
Replacing punishment with planning together from a choice position is good for your relationship and it strengthens your child’s problem solving skills.
When I face a child behavior challenge, or any relationship challenge for that matter, I try hard to assume a choice position. Planning together is a great way to do it. It resolves the present problem, it encourages my child to engage creatively, and it’s always good for my mental health and happiness.