This is not a post about how to avoid all parent-child conflict. You and I both know that is just not possible.
But this is a post about understanding why and in doing so, maybe avoiding some parent-child conflict.
It boils down to one word, really: expectations.
Your last argument
Think about the last argument you had with your child.
Was it over a room you expected them to clean? Over a curfew you expected them to keep? Over a lie you did not expect them to tell?
Think about the last time your child was angry at you.
Was it over a privilege they expected to get? (video game time, tv time, use of the car). Was it about something they expected you to do for them, like wash their uniform or clean their bathroom? Or maybe it was because they expected you to be somewhere or give them something they wanted.
Most of our arguments stem from the fact that someone’s expectations are not being met.
When a curfew is blown, a uniform isn’t washed, a lie was discovered, someone gets angry and conflict erupts.
And it’s at this point, that things can get messed up. Because, you see, as parents we often focus on the anger, the conflict, the unkind words and tears–these are all symptoms of the disease called unmet expectations–instead of the disease itself.
Are you busy putting on bandaids?
When someone has a disease, doctors focus on treatment and cure. They may give meds to manage symptoms, but curing the disease is the priority.
Do you ever get it backwards in your home? Do you focus on the symptoms of the disease–the tears, the unkind words, the anger–instead of treating the disease itself, the unmet expectation?
The problem with that approach is that you never really get to the disease, and you waste your time putting bandaids on the symptoms.
Your son yells and you ground him or take away his phone. You’ve treated the symptom, without treating the disease.
Your daughter lies about where she went and you ground her without any discussion. You’ve treated the symptom, without treating the disease.
I’m not saying you should ignore the symptoms. Yes, you should ground your child or take away his phone when his behavior needs some tough love.
But don’t get so caught up in treating the symptoms that you ignore the deeper disease.
Somehow, somewhere, expectations are not being met and until you get to the heart of that, you will not find a cure, you will only be treating symptoms.
What’s the cure?
The best way to cure the disease of unmet expectations is with communication.
What communication is NOT: you asking a question and not really listening to their answer because you already know what you are going to say. You have your spiel already in your mind and it needs to be said. Doesn’t matter what your child is saying.
What communication IS: a 2-way street. It involves you asking your child some questions like, “What were you hoping for?” or “What were you expecting that I would do?” And then it means Listening to their response. I mean, really Listening. Not planning your next response, your next point to be made, but Listening to their words, and also being in tune to the fact that that they may not be saying something because they are afraid of your reaction.
It’s not an easy cure
The cure to the conflicts that arise over unmet expectations is not easy or quick. It takes lots of love and persistence. Sometimes years of it.
Please don’t give up. Fight that disease. Someday you will look back and say it was so worth it. I promise.
I know the parenting journey can be a real challenge. How do you deal with unmet expectations in your house?
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