‘We had total melt-down this week.’
It was the fourth week of our Parenting Programme, and Jane shared her story with the parents and myself, as facilitator, in her group. She’d had the flu during the week and one day was so off-colour that she left her five year old son, Timmy, to choose his own clothes for school. Later in the week he decided that he didn’t want to choose from the either/or outfits that she’d put ready – he wanted to choose his clothes himself. He started whining. She can’t stand him whining so she became increasingly uptight. He started having a meltdown and Jane left the room before she exploded. The other parents gave little chuckles – it was easy to identify with this situation.
‘How do I do it differently?’ she asked.
I invited her to role-play the situation, with me being the mother and her taking the role of the child. I wish I’d had the video camera rolling, but this is roughly what transpired.
THE ‘KOEMBA–CONNECT’ MODEL
I reminded the group of the ‘Koemba – CONNECT’:
As I role-played Jane’s part I consciously chose to PARK my own stuff (particularly I recognised I’m parking my worry about what the group might think).
I also imagine what I might have to PARK as Jane:
my own agenda (‘We’ve got to get going!’ )
my perspective (‘What’s wrong with the clothes I’ve chosen?)
my frustration (Why can’t he just co-operate?’)
my opinions (He’s just doing this to annoy me!)
my fears (If I let him choose, he’ll put on something ridiculous!)
All this is ‘my stuff’ and will pollute the space between us, unless I choose to park it.
Only when I put myself in PARK (In ‘neutral’ position) can I CONNECT.
I gently move in closer, I make eye contact at his level, using a ‘soft gaze’, I’m aware of keeping a calm tone of voice and open body language. Because I’ve already PARKed my stuff, what’s happening on the outside is actually a reflection of the inside– my intention is to CONNECT (Not trying create an instant solution, nor to cajole him into doing what I want). I know it will take time moving through the process to get to PLAN.
Timmy: I don’t want to wear these. I want to choose my own clothes.
Jane: You don’t want to wear those today.
Timmy: No, I want to choose my clothes for school.
Jane: You want to choose your clothes for school?
Timmy: Yes, when you were sick, I did it myself.
Jane: When I was sick you chose your own clothes.
I ‘timed out’ the conversation and checked in with the group. I recognized that as I was role-playing the mother, I wasn’t feeling up-tight and there was no sign of tension in ‘Timmy’. I checked in with ‘Timmy’ – he was ‘feeling heard’. I checked in with the group – what did they observe? They were aware of the calmness. There was no whining or emotional temperatures rising. And ‘Timmy’ was not doing an out-of-control pre-schooler reaction – but speaking in a very rational tone of voice. I (as ‘Parent’) had FOCUSED on the situation and EVOKED a response (rather than a reaction).
The Parent group then imagined what would be the situation now if this was an adult-to-adult discussion. We’d PLAN – we’d work together to find a solution that met both our needs. Jane laughed.
‘I guess I’m worried he’d make a crazy choice but actually he dressed very sensibly when I was too sick to organize his clothes.’
Another mum shared,
‘It’s always a rush in the morning. I think if we just do it ‘my way’ it will save time. But when I push my own agenda and ignore what my child needs, it takes much longer and we’re all uptight and upset.’
HELPFUL PROBLEM SOLVING TOOL
‘I get that,’ said one of the dads, ‘but sometimes that’s not practical.’
We discussed a great tool that Faber and Mazlish introduce in their book ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk.’
My YouTube video clip ‘Power Struggle Solution’ demonstrate this approach – click here if you’d like to discover this tool. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how ‘copped on’ your children are at coming up with workable solutions and it’s a great way to build their problem solving and negotiation skills.
THE POWER OF THE ‘KOEMBA – CONNECT’ MODEL
The group recognized the power of the Koemba-CONNECT approach to move out of the power struggle and to create harmony in the home. What it’s sometimes hard to remember in our Parenting, is that it’s not our job to persuade our children to think the same as we do. Our role is to support our children to be themselves, with their own thoughts, experiences, emotions and viewpoints. What we can do is to guide them to be response-able. We can CONNECT so that they can articulate their own opinions and respect others’ – we can model how to connect and compromise. That’s the potential power in our day-to day parenting struggles. Every upset is an opportunity for growth.
Instead of our children growing up thinking ‘my way or the highway’, they’ll absorb powerful tools to deal respectfully with conflict in relationship.