Sometimes my sons argue with me. Sometimes they fight with me and resist my authority and responsibility. When this happens, I sometimes want to fight and argue back. This is called escalation.
I know better, though, and I don't escalate. If I catch myself escalating, I stop.
Susie Walton taught me in her Joy of Parenting class that all this fighting and arguing that kids do is called "Resistance." Resistance is anytime someone pushes back. You WANT your children to resist you sometimes. You'll learn below how this resistance gives you a chance to be a hero!
Resistance builds willpower, and without willpower, they will be brittle against the challenges of life.
Without the will to find boundaries children don’t learn about their environment. If you put them in a corn maze would you want them just to sit there, or would you want them to work through the problem of getting out? How fun would a corn maze be if you could just walk through the walls and exit? Resistance is them coming to dead ends in the corn maze of life and struggling with it. Sometimes that fight is against you, their parent.
First, and least obvious, when you escalate by a loud voice, anger, emotional outburst, fighting, or hitting you are in essence playing the child’s game. You are taking the bait. You simply are not being an adult. Adults feel their emotional upset and then act based on what they know is best for everyone in the situation.
Second, escalation teaches your children how to escalate with you. You are modeling for them how to act in a disagreement. It may take a month or even years, but eventually, you’ll face a child that screams and fights as well as you do. Worse yet you end up with a child that has a dead spirit and is no longer willing to fight back for his dignity. Either way, they will know how to push your buttons because you taught him how when you decided to argue and fight back needlessly.
Third, you break the relationship apart. You are the ADULT, and you are choosing to scream, fight and argue with your child instead of being firm, kind and close. You’ll even make the pitiful excuse that she is purposely pushing your buttons. She isn’t doing anything that you haven’t taught her to do. Escalating a fight means a loss of trust, respect, love and faith in the other. The damage goes both ways. Not only are you damaging your child’s self-image and self-respect and her respect for you. You just punched your self-image in the nose. Are you the kind of parent that fights with a child?
Step one: Calmly and firmly deal with any threat to life, limb, and property. If your child is about to fall out of a two-story window then, without talking at all, go pick him up and pull him out of the window. If she wants to play with that 200-year-old vase your grandmother gave you, take it away from her quickly and box that thing and put it in the attic where it belongs.
You get the picture here. Bad things happen to parents that argue first when life, limb, and property are at stake.
Step Two: Create space between the emotional stimulus and YOUR response. Breathe deeply, count to 10, walk away for a second, ask your wife to deal with it, do downward-facing-dog and stand on your head for all I care. Just do ANYTHING to calm yourself before you do something that you’ll regret. This is anger management 101. If you are fighting even a little bit with your child then you have issues. Those are your buttons getting pushed not anyone else’s, so own them and own your response.
Step Three: Be open, connected, firm, kind, resolved, flexible, and a great parent even when you are upset.
Yeah, it is a high bar, and you have what it takes!
Do something that makes sense to your better self. Do what that soft voice under all the yelling in your head says to do. If you don’t hear it, then next time listen closer. Ask that soft voice what your hero would do right now? Would Superman fight with a 5-year-old? You are your child’s hero, so emotional heroics are a part of the job description. They are losing their mind, and you just swoop in and take care of things. From the child's perspective that's Superman in action. They might not be happy at the moment, but they will feel safe and loved.
Finally, take conscious action (or inaction) that is adult in its sensibilities and relies on your strength of presence and rational decision making. Be a conscious model of behavior that teaches everything from self-management to compassion and love.
Whatever you do, don’t be the unconscious jerk that escalates and overpowers his 8-year-old son just like your father or mother did to you (that was your model after all).
Instead, change the dynamic for generations.
It may not come easy, but you are the hero for the job!
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