"When we get into the pit with them, soon we can't tell who the smell's coming from." - Danny Silk.
There are a number of different conflicts that can occur between us and our children, as explained a couple of blogs ago. One is when they can't have something that they would like.
When they get cross, it's so tempting to slug it out with them. If only we could get our point across and help them to understand how right we are. Right? But there's a gentler way.
If we've needed to enforce a boundary that they don't like, they're likely to be upset. It's our job to put well-thought-through, age appropriate boundaries in place and it's their job to butt them. They do this for a number of reasons. One of them is to make sure the boundaries are safe because that makes our children feel safe. One of their greatest human needs is safety and although they love to move our boundary lines, it's actually really confusing for them. There's safety in consistency.
When they butt the fences they're trying to get us to move them, or remove them. They can do this by complaining, making us feel guilty, withdrawing their affection. They're all attempts to hook us on the end of their fishing line and drag us into the pit with them. But actually, if we go to the other end of the spectrum we can offer empathy.
"What?" I hear you say! They're giving it to me with both barrels and you want me to empathise.
Well yes, it's a suggestion. Why? Because it diffuses.
If they are finding it hard to be the only toddler who has to have a nap, the only 8 year old who has to put the ipad down, the only ten year old who has to go to grandpa's party, when he'd rather go swimming with his friend, the only 12 year old in the world who can't take her phone to her room for the night, or 17 year old who can't go to a particular party, we can empathise.
If the boundary is in place, that leaves us free to say
"I know this is hard for you."
"I'm sorry you find this difficult."
"I realise this feels unfair."
"I'm sorry it's not the answer you were looking for."
If you speak to them empathetically, not with sarcasm, or frustration (though you may well be feeling it), there's very little for them to grab on to and fight against. I'm not saying they'll back down and say 'ok' but they may sense you've hung up your gloves.
They might need a cool off period. We may need to hold our nerve and allow them to process the fact that they're not going to get their way. Standing our ground can be strong, but gentle at the same time. It's hard to be gentle when they're up for a fight, but if we can be objective and remove ourselves from the sense of rejection, it's not impossible.
There are so many important messages running concurrently when we are strong but gentle. We're showing them how to be gentle but firm, we're fighting for the things that are important to them, we're making them feel safe, we're offering love, when they're offering war, to name but a few.
Changing the way we respond in different situations can be like developing a new muscle. It takes time to form a habit, but every attempt builds strength, until it begins to feel... not necessarily easy, but much easier.