I am a successful businesswoman.
I am a successful entrepreneur.
I am a successful psychotherapist.
And yet, in talking to other parents about conflict between my children and theirs, I frequently feel like a failure.
Why is this such a challenge, and not just for me, but for most parents I speak to?
How and when should parents intervene to smooth rough patches between kids?
My chin is still on the ground after interactions I have had with other parents where I felt blamed, shunned or ostracized. I had no idea this was part of parenting culture.
As a parent to a highly sensitive child, I want to understand how to navigate parent interactions better so I might do right by him.
With that goal in mind, I interviewed parenting experts, other parents and teachers on how parents can communicate effectively.
It helped me and I hope it helps you. Here is what they said.
What do you believe is at the root of parents moving from blame and shame rather than collaboration to sort out conflict between kids?
“We keep hearing from many sources about the importance of raising emotionally intelligent children. The problem is that the vast majority of us were not raised in a home where that was the goal and quite frankly, we are not very emotionally intelligent ourselves. If we do not have the support to build that capacity alongside our children or a practice of self-compassion about this daily experience of humility, we can become riddled with shame. Shame has a funny way of turning into judgment.” Taylor Ross, The Practice of Parenting (My parenting coach! She rocks.)
“Schools are often not taking the appropriate amount of time to find out WHAT actually happened and then communicate to parents in a collaborative way. Also, many schools do not have a framework they are using for kids to problem-solve, and even when they do, they are not teaching it to parents to use at home.” Maryellen Mullin, Family Therapist and School Counselor
On Family Values
“Each family has a different set of values, so it’s additionally complicated because one’s version of good/bad is different from another’s, so to work through it together means connecting and being somewhat intimate with the other parent and negotiating your values together, which not everyone wants to do.” Dr. Jessica Michaelson, Psychologist
On The Culture
“We have shifted to a culture where about 1/3 of our parent population are attaching an inflated sense of self onto their children, and/or reliving their childhoods through them. They have a desperate, nearly illogical need to have their children look exceptional. So, instead of seeing their child’s bad behavior, or sub-par performance as a human part of growing up, they see it as an attack on the illusion they must believe to adhere to their view of their child as the ideal…” Lisa LeDonne, Middle School Educator (17 years)
When should parents intervene or when should they let kids figure stuff out on their own?
On Parents and Schools
“Parents need to intervene before problems happen. This is where community-building comes into play, as an antecedent to the problem event. Parents need to demand Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs in schools. Parents need to ask schools for the framework for problem solving that is being used (such as Restorative Practices, Caring School Communities, Kimochies, Tribes, etc.) to apply at home.” Maryellen Mullin, Family Therapist and School Counselor
With my own children and students I always have them start by trying to handle it themselves, then will step in as a coach or umpire if that has not led to resolution or reconciliation. (Unless physical violence is involved then go directly to a counselor or administrator.) Lisa LeDonne, Middle School Educator
If I’ve made space for kids to work it out, and they are clearly resorting to destructive solutions that will harm each other or things [then I intervene]. Dr. Jessica Michaelson, Psychologist
What are 5 best practice steps a parent can take when collaborating with another parent to make the interaction effective?
- Decide if collaboration is necessary and/or worth it with this particular child and parent. If it’s someone you don’t have to engage with and don’t really want in your life, it’s okay to interact less. If it’s someone at school or in your life, then decide that you want to make an effort to work on it.
- Start with verbalizing empathy, for the parent and the child. Starting off this way will minimize the chance of getting a defensive response, though not eliminate it because you can’t control the other person’s reaction or feelings.
- Ask the other parent what s/he thinks works best for his/her child when the conflict or problem behavior starts. Treat the other parents as the expert on their own child, which will give you insight into his/her personality and needs, and maintain a collaborative feeling between parents. Maybe [Jill] likes time alone when she’s angry but you’ve assumed she needs to talk it out, and getting input from her parents can guide your interventions.
- Be actively appreciative when the ‘problem’ child is behaving kindly, so the relationship isn’t overly defined by the conflict.
- Express your own limits and boundaries in a way that doesn’t imply blame. Focus on what you are going to do and not do, what works for you and what doesn’t, rather than focusing too much on evaluating the other child or family. For example, “We’re going to go. It was great seeing you.” “I’m going to ask the teacher his/her ideas about helping them with this during the day.” “Now’s not a good time for us to do playdates.”
At the end of the day every single parent, teacher and therapist I interviewed except for one, said NOT to ignore conflicts that aren’t resolving.
Lean in by getting to know the social-emotional program at your school, and if kids need help working out a problem take action.
Across the board, everyone said start conversations with parents by asking questions about the other side’s point of view. Also, leverage the school and school counselor freely and readily. Not all kids are meant to be friends and we can’t sanitize social interactions so they are guaranteed pain-free, but our job as parents is to empower kids with the tools for relational effectiveness.
Emotional intelligence is as big a predictor of later success as book smarts so we collectively need to value it! We must value emotional skills and practice them in order to teach them. From here, we can demand that our schools value and teach them as well.
I have succeeded in many areas of my life, and I am just as determined to succeed in this one. I know you are too–for the sake of these kids we adore.