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View from Another Planet: Learning to Talk to Our Children

Our goal in conscious communication is not to change the other person . . . Our goal is to establish connection.

Andrew LeCompte, author, Creating Harmonious Relationships

A parent of three attended a workshop I gave on managing conflict. A few days after the workshop, she emailed me to say that she’d had an “opportunity” to practice when her 15-year-old daughter came home an hour after the agreed upon time. As my friend put it, “I had an opportunity last night at home…and I blew it!”

A colleague, in talking about conflicts at home, once said “Our family really knows how to push our buttons – because they installed them.” I laughed because it was funny and because it is so true. It’s more difficult to deal with family conflicts, because the patterns we’ve created with each other are so entrenched.

Conflict Does Exist
What happens to you when conflict arises? If your reactions are typical of most of us, you either prepare for a fight or do your best to avoid the situation.

We’d all like to be better at conflict because we sense the potential it holds – to strengthen our relationships; to teach our children that conflict can be an opportunity to learn and grow; and to learn and grow ourselves.

If you’re alive, you will have conflict from time to time. You can become more skilled at handling conflict and gain influence over the outcome by becoming aware of your conflict “habits” and changing the ones that are not useful or purposeful.

The Art of Listening
One time-tested conflict management skill is listening. The next time you get into a battle with your child, try asking for their point of view, listening, and paraphrasing what they said. Ask questions to which you really don’t know the answer, then listen again. State in your words what you heard him say. Step off your point of view for a moment and be curious.

Imagine your child just arrived from another planet. If ET really did land near your house and you knew that he was a friendly soul, wouldn’t you love to have an exclusive interview? You’d want to know everything, wouldn’t you? Pretend you don’t know anything about your child’s perspective (you really don’t). Stand or sit side by side and face the same direction. Try to find out what is really important. For example, parents and kids often fight over chores or homework, yet when we take time to find out what is at the base of the argument, it’s usually about responsibility, yours as a parent and your child’s as a maturing adult. From this place, it will be easier to talk about your mutual needs and concerns.

A nice byproduct of your aligning with them is that they may be more willing to see your position. Now it’s your turn to share the view from your planet. Talk, listen, talk, and listen again. Keep both viewpoints in mind as you search for solutions. Even when setting or reinforcing limits, you can acknowledge your child’s point of view and stand firm. “I understand that Kathy’s mom lets her stay out that late, but you cannot.” Avoid justifying and persuading.

Listening Does Not Equal Agreement
It’s challenging to take the initiative to learn where our children are coming from, because we risk losing authority. Remember that listening does not necessarily mean agreeing. Being willing to consider their cause demonstrates empathy, understanding and the willingness to look for mutually agreeable solutions. Taking the time to listen and talk shows them you care, builds self-esteem, and gives them appropriate ways to handle troubling situations of their own.

“Oh well. Maybe next time I can get centered first,” said my friend when we talked about the conflict with her 15-year-old. Reminding yourself to breathe and center before, during and after a conflict will have a beneficial influence on you and your child, while teaching your child a valuable skill. Be curious, listen and learn, and let your purpose be your guide. It may take two to tango, but it only takes one to change the dance.

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