All parents have the same “impossible dream.” We want our kids to become grown-ups who have a strong voice and will not allow themselves to be pushed around or controlled by others. At the same time, we want our kids to do what we say with a great attitude and a smile. This is what psychologists call desires in conflict.
We can’t have it both ways. You want your children to be able to stand their ground and confront others in healthy ways later in life, and there is a training ground for that: their relationship with you! So here are some tips to help you help your child develop this important capacity, with minimal hurt feelings for either of you.
Model healthy confrontation
Kids learn a lot more when information is caught, not taught. How you confront your spouse and kids is highly predictive of how your child will confront others. Research indicates that the best model is one in which there is both warmth and clarity.
Warmth is the emotional expression of being “for” and “with” the other person. Warmth is the opposite of rage and emotional withdrawal. Clarity is the clear expression of expectations and consequences. The mixture of these two components is powerful.
Encourage respectful honesty
Kids need to learn that it’s acceptable to be unhappy or angry. Perhaps they feel that they have already studied enough or want to stay out later during the weekend. It needs to be OK for them to express that to you. Every child needs to have their point of view understood. It might not change the situation, and they still may have to do their homework, but at least they will know their voice was not punished, and that they are not alone.
Try to make all communications between you respectful. You don’t want your child throwing a tantrum at her first job when her boss asks her to work late on a project. That’s no preparation for real life. In my book Boundaries with Teens, I list three types of communications that can reflect whether a confrontation is respectful or disrespectful:
- Words: Certain hostile or abusive words are not OK, and your teen needs to know what they are. My wife and I told our kids, “You can tell us you’re really mad at us if that’s how you feel. But that’s how you say it.”
- Attitude: Rolling eyes, sneering and interrupting the conversation is not the way to go. It’s fine to be unhappy, but not with a disrespectful attitude.
- Behavior: Slamming doors, throwing stuff and walking out of the room before the conversation is done aren’t respectful actions. Tell your child, “I need you to finish our talk and then you can leave, but leave respectfully.”
Teach your overly compliant child to speak up
Some kids don’t have the ability to confront anything. They are just helpful, positive and approval-seeking. While this seems like the perfect situation, these children are often in jeopardy of not knowing how they feel or how to handle tough situations with others.
Most of the time, an overly compliant child is afraid of disappointing you or being rejected if they challenge you. So make that a conversation and make it safe for them to have a voice. Say, “I know you love me and you are a great kid. But I want to hear what your opinions are even if you disagree with me. I won’t get mad and we’ll work it out.” In time, your child should (timidly at first) speak up.
The point here is, be the training ground for your future young adult, who needs to know how to navigate work, career, friendships, love, marriage and parenting. Help them learn how to stand up for themselves and confront others in the healthiest ways possible.
Best to your parenting.