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Are you a policing parent or a problem solving one?

Is nagging and non-responding wearing you down?

Tired of hearing yourself instruct??? In some Asian countries you see the traffic police on a high box, above the road, madly blowing whistles and even waving flags…..but not getting much response from the drivers who are too used to this drama and can tune it out. Are you that parent? Living in Singapore the traffic police instill very clear rules, with few visible reminders, always definite consequences and their drivers seem to behave better – isn’t that like the parent you would like to be??

Unfortunately we are living in a very ‘outcome’ focused world and with busy schedules the ‘just do it’ style of parenting creates a whole host of behaviors between parent and child when the ‘not doing it’ inevitably occurs. Both parent and child are subconsciously scanning for ‘what is to be done/how it can be avoided’ and a subtle power play intrudes so that each are conscious of the other, most particularly focusing on what is NOT occurring, creating sneaky behaviors, whining, nagging and endless frustration. This is a recipe for a ‘tug’ between when the parent wants and what the child want and evolves into negotiation for everything.

Outside of the home, particularly in today’s world, the rules have eased about some people having power and control and others following – at work, in the community, in schools, etc. Collaboration is key rather than control – because collaboration brings both parties into discussion and creates joint goals, therefore it is more successful. But it requires thought and time and hope….not always easy to find in a home with a child who has learnt lots of oppositional and avoidant behaviors under its current controller!

This new philosophy would require that ‘fault’ be laid aside and each party own that they have slipped into negative patterns based on their own personality, perspective and a host of factors such as upbringing, standards, abilities, etc. So, when countries have been at war, re-birth starts from a place of humility and acceptance, not from guilt and shame.

This new approach requires that a problem be laid between the parties and really investigated to see beneath the external situation and into the thoughts and feelings that create it. Then, together, as many solutions as possible are sought – observing how others outside this duo might deal with it, what the worst solution is (yes do include that so you are not striving for best case outcomes but crossing a range of options that include emotion, failure, feeling bad).

Then, with mutual respect for one another’s viewing, a shuffling process occurs in which some solutions are shifted to one side and others undergo a further selection process to arrive at one that seems worthy – and when I mean worthy, again it could be that a silly solution is worthwhile or a radically new solution tried, that may appear unlikely, but in its newness, and with both parties interested in its option, you never know….?

Sometimes the new solution needs elaborating into a plan and writing or drawing that can be useful because then, neither party is holding it alone, and you can refer to the agreed plan, once again reducing power-play. The best plans have a HOW TO focus, not a HOW WELL, and if standards are to be included having a graded system is useful so that if the ‘goal’ not is reached, a ‘less than’ standard might be possible, for without this its simply a win/lose situation and set up for failure is strong.

So determining what behavior should occur, and some levels is helpful, but extending this into useful thinking that might support this goal is also helpful….observing how others might feel about goal completion, or the learning involved is good – especially if that learning is internal in the development of more patience, courage, commitment or care.

Key in all this is pausing later to reflect on whether the plan worked. If it didn’t - don’t throw it away. Really consider what obstacles were in the way and could they be minimized next time? Really wonder about the motivation and support, perhaps, if they could be included in the next plan. Don’t be afraid to hold on to bits of the plan – ie, adapting is always better than starting again. Notice the smallest bits that worked and grow them, consider attitude and application, let go of ‘wrong’ and really think about which desires and concerns led the person off the path of the plan and value them, working those elements into the next adaptation if you can.

Patience does not arrive alongside problem solving! It needs cultivating and being able to plan in 10 minute blocks is all some children/parents can manage. Don’t aim too high, you don’t want ten different new plans on the table at once, you want to start with something small and concrete that both parties are interested in reaching a better consensus on. Ultimately, the ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy keeps your children on the highway of avoidance and working together to build some small pathways towards success jointly, with encouragement and perseverance, is the way to not just establish better rules in the home, but to be working with reasons and driving skills that allow the policeman to retire….eventually!

Finally….notice what is working – frequently. The way to keep those intentions, like balls in the air, is to really notice the smallest ways in which you see the qualities that are required to pursue the plan. If courage is an aspect of the plan, then notice it in as many areas as possible. If putting ‘what I want’ to one side is essential to the plan’s success, then be vigilant and catch the moments you see the child care for others. If determination is key, talk about the thoughts and the effort and dedication required to be determined. If independence is important to the outcome of the new behavior, then really focus on developing this and creating opportunities to be aware of when it is in operation. It is good to think of these inner strengths like passengers in our ‘car’ who help hold the map and keep the driver going in the right direction. Be appreciative of that support and work with it – focusing not only on the actions to be created, but on the qualities required to keep those actions going.

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