Lesson: Acceptance is the first step to Problem Solving

Lessons for Everyday Parenting

The Connective Parenting Newsletter, June 2014

Acceptance is the First Step to Problem Solving

Acceptance is the First Step to Problem Solving

Today’s children seem more and more challenging to our expectations of how we should parent and how they should behave. Many will not take no for an answer and won’t be told what to do. They want to solve their own problems their way. Can you let go and allow them to? It takes the power of acceptance—something most of us were not brought up on.

Because I believe that all children want to be successful and please the most important people in their lives, I believe their challenges are telling us to see that our way of doing things may not be right for them.

Resistance begins with us. We approach a newborn with our beliefs and expectations in tact. When that child presents us with behavior we didn’t expect or don’t know how to deal with, we approach it with those assumptions and expectations, which aren’t adjusted to who they are or what they are capable of doing. They resist with reactive behavior and herein lies the power struggle.

We often intercept the experiences and natural consequences our children need in order to learn, cut off circuits they must explore, and interfere with their own individual development. We expect them to share when they are not yet capable, to be nice and considerate when they are deep in developmental egocentrism, to adhere to our agendas ignoring their own. When we don’t trust our child’s individual process, when we set our expectations for the child we hoped for rather than the child we have, we set up the resistance that shuts them out of our sphere of influence and sends them in the direction we most fear.

We typically presume to know what is best and teach them what we think they should do.

If Jacob comes home from school complaining of being pushed around and called a bad name, my fear sets in, mama bear emerges, I stop trusting Jacob’s capability, and launch into my agenda.

  • You need to stand up for yourself and tell him you don’t like that.
  • Just ignore him and walk away.
  • Tell your teacher so she can handle it.
  • Push him back. Give him some of his own medicine.
  • I’m calling your teacher/the principal/that boy’s parents and make sure he gets punished.

All of these solutions are made with best intentions of protecting Jacob. None are intended to send him the message that he is not capable of handling the situation, or further building his dependency on someone else to solve his problems. They are made out of fear—fear of what could happen. Jacob’s capablity is ignored. He may stop coming to his parents with problems. He likely doesn’t want to be told what to do, rather he needs an understanding parent to help him decide what he thinks he can do.

In order to develop problem solving skills in your child, you must accept that he is capable first and foremost (to the egree that he actually is). Next comes connection.

  • Oh wow, that must have been hard. Tell me more about what happened.
  • That was a difficult situation to know what to do. You must have felt so angry.

Then comes problem solving:

  • Being away from it now, what do you think you could have done that might have helped?
  • What do you wish you could say to this boy if you could say anything you wanted?
  • Now, if you were in that situation again, what could you say or do that might stop him from messing with you?
  • Would you like any suggestions or help?

Many of you might think I am sending Jacob to the lion’s den. Certainly there are instances when you must step in, but do so with your child’s knowledge and agreement. Your goal as a parent is to allow Jacob time to think about the situation and come up with his own solutions that work for him, which may surprise you—and which may fail. It’s not about you and what you would do. It’s about Jacob. It’s about accepting, acknowledging, and developing Jacob’s capacity to think through situations and find solutions. That’s called resilience. When you ask, “What do you think you can do?” you do not want Jacob’s response to be, “I don’t know.”

Accepting your child’s own process of learning and developing will reduce the challenges they present you with and create connection that will last a lifetime. Your job is guide and facilitator of your child’s unique way of being in this world.

I cannot say it better than one of my readers on facebook. “Accepting means seeing them for who they are (energy level, interests, and abilities). Parents can still guide them and forage good habits and manners while allowing them to blaze their own path and feed their own inner light.” Beautifully said, Rebecca.

Special Offer To win a copy of a wonderful new book on how to parent with acceptance—Raise the Child You’ve Got, Not the One You Want, by Nancy Roseread my blog and leave a comment.

Questions and Answers

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

Three is a Triangle

Q. I have two daughters aged 4 and 3. A few months ago new neighbours moved in with a 5 ½ yo. son. The children play regularly together. There have been a few incidents recently of the boy whispering with my elder daughter, excluding my younger from play. Yesterday he started singing a song about a “baby” directed at my younger daughter, who became very upset. My older daughter joined in with him – also when he is pulling at my younger ones clothes on the trampoline. 3 children together playing is often a difficult number as there is a bit of competition from my elder daughter to get his attention (he was playing happily indoors with my younger daughter yesterday and the older one kept trying to get him to go outside). I took my elder daughter aside yesterday and spoke quite sternly to her. I don’t know the best approach as I don’t want her to be resentful or her and the boy taking my intervention out on my younger daughter.

A. All of this is quite normal (I’m afraid). Three is a difficult number. Since this behavior is developmentally normal there is no reason to admonish it as they are doing what little kids do. What you can do is give them choices. “Either you can each play with him on your own while the other does something else or you can all play together as long as you (older) do not join him in his teasing of your sister (younger). If you choose to all play together, and I see the two of you taunting her, I will call you in the house and play will be over. What do you (older) think you could say to him when he wants to tease your sister?”

Don’t tell her what to do, she needs to figure out what will work for her. Keep asking until what she says is okay with you. This kind of problem solving is the best teaching you can do. Even if she is not able to follow through in the moment (most likely) you can call them in and ask her if she felt she couldn’t say what she had planned. Also it’s important to acknowledge that she may want to play with him without her sister. Again, problem solve how that will work in a way that’s okay for both your girls.

And be careful not to “side” with your younger against the older. You can start working with her on what she would like to say to them when they pull at her clothes etc. Encourage her as opposed to protecting her. We often unintentionally develop the victim mentality in our younger children who we naturally want to protect. All of this can be done with no words of admonishment to the boy. That is not your job.

Who Owns the Problem?

Q. I’m feeling frustrated. I’m trying to work with your “who owns the problem” principle. Maybe I’m giving my 8 yr. old daughter too much power and that is why it’s frustrating me. Today – We go to this little SuperMarket and I select a salad I’m trying to put in the cart. I ask my daughter to please move so I could get it, and she did not respond. I ask her again, a little louder in case she didn’t hear me – she still stays there. Now I’m mad because she’s ignoring me and in my head I’m saying to myself, my problem, but this is ridiculous. Her behavior is so disrespectful all the time. Maybe she doesn’t intend it, but boy it’s hard not to see it that way. I ended up telling her if she’s not able to cooperate with me then she doesn’t get the cart. All yesterday and Friday I’ve been trying the “ok this is my problem” take on it. I don’t know where to go with it.

A. This is hard stuff because your head is still in the “children should do as I say and if they don’t, something has to happen to them” mode. It’s hard to shake it and sometimes takes a long time. If your daughter is not moving when you ask she is resisting you with some reason she can’t or won’t articulate. When her resistance is met with your resistance, it only creates more resistance. No one wins.

Your thinking needs to change from she is being a problem to she is having a problem. WHY is she standing in your way? Her behavior is all you have to tell you how she is doing. When she behaves with resistance, it means something is preventing her from cooperating. She thinks resistance is the only way she can get what she wants.

Your response in the supermarket (yes, it is your problem) might be, “So I’m wondering why you don’t want me to get my salad. It looks to me like you’re mad at me about something and I’d like to know what it’s about.” Don’t question her or expect an answer.

When it is your problem own it and tell her what your problem is—from your point of view without judgment or interpretation of what you think about it. That leads to blame, blame provokes defense in her, which in turn leads you to more anger—unless you see that she is having a problem. Then say, “Would you either hand it to me or move aside so I can get it. Which one are you choosing?” She still may not move but there is more likelihood she will. (see my new blog on blame—link below)

School Bullying

Q. Our 13 yo. daughter has suffered a great deal of mean treatment by her former best friends who appear to be suffering themselves from peer pressure and blatant jealously. At one point 3 of them were given detention and in-school suspensions. The parents of those 3 had great animosity toward us even tho it was other kids at the school who reported the incident. Things improved briefly, but one girl who we know has been bullied by her older brothers for years and has been identified as the ring leader (and was not included in the reporting mentioned) is still treating my daughter poorly. We were friends with this family but that seems to have ended since the mom reported my husband for bullying this girl by looking at her during a bullying discussion at the school where he also works as a teacher! Whew. My question is this: Do you have any suggestions for us or the school administration/counseling team for how to address this in a non-punitive way with these kids? I know they tried to get the girls to appreciate how this can affect someone’s feelings but they must forget…plus it does not help that the parents agenda is to clear and defend their kids reputations in spite of the evidence of cruelty…its so pathetic…I am all ears if you care to share ideas!

A. Dealing with bullying issues at school means tackling our culture of punishment—it’s how we see things, our whole culture is focused on the reward and punishment system. Encouraging public schools to deal with any incident non-punitively is definitely an uphill battle, and I doubt will be resolved any time soon. But the conversation must happen.

The incidents can be dealt with non-punitively by getting the girls together and having a good facilitator conduct conflict resolution. To take it a step further, it would involve facilitating a restorative justice circle of the girls involved and anyone else in the school community who is affected. (I am about to be trained in this and will know more soon). No blame is laid on anyone. Everyone must know from the beginning and reminded throughout that no one is getting in trouble, that they are going to work out the problem in this room. Each girl in turn has uninterrupted time to state her case, problem, anger, frustration, humiliation, etc. in whatever way she wants. Uninterrupted time is “sacred”. Some use a talking stick. Each girl has an opportunity for rebuttal until no one has anything more to say. Often it takes several go-rounds in the process for deeper feelings to come out—and several incidents as well.

The facilitator’s role is to make no judgments and empathically acknowledge the problems each girl is having, making sure the conversation continues until all are understood. For instance, girl A might say, “Sorry” in order to get the process over with. The facilitator then asks girl B if she accepts that apology. If girl B says no, then the facilitator asks girl A what she thinks she needs to say differently to get her apology accepted by girl B. Or the facilitator asks girl B what she needs from girl A in order to feel a genuine apology.

After everyone is done explaining their side of the story, then the facilitator asks them what they can do to insure that this doesn’t happen again. This may involve anything from simple verbal promises (asking each if they can accept the other’s promise) to writing out a contract that all parties are engaged in and sign.

The kids involved have to trust the process in order for real restitution and change to be made. Every time a punishment is issued, the process goes back to zero and trust is lost. This must be backed with a serious intent on the part of the school to eradicate the culture of punishment within the school. We also need to get all guidance counselors trained in conflict resolution.

Story

My husband and I are using the Buttons and Connective Parenting principles at home every day, and it has changed our family’s dynamic for the better! We are all loving it. Last night, my almost 5 year old was dancing in a squirted big blob of toothpaste on the floor. He was very pleased with himself of what he had discovered he could do when his father allowed him to squeeze toothpaste on the toothbrush all by himself. Our buttons were being pushed to say the least…especially that our bimonthly cleaners had just come that day and the bathroom had been spotless before Ori’s little experiment. The miracle was that my husband and I stayed calm and neutral where in the past an explosion from one of us would have taken place. I picked up Ori in my arms and calmly said “you like making jokes and making people laugh don’t you?”. He proudly said “yeah”. I proceeded to tell him how much I loved to laugh with him. We thought about some of the funny jokes we have shared in the past. Once we were connected and he was calm, we could have a conversation about jokes where others laugh and jokes that are funny for the teller but not for others. The amazing thing was that he got it, and he asked if he could clean up the mess he had made on the floor!

 

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