Collaborating with your child

The Importance of Collaborating with your Child

Our Luxe parenting expert, Nadia McSheffrey, shares the importance of collaborating with your child…

“Alright, stop! Collaborate and listen.” I heard the infamous Vanilla Ice song recently when I was driving. Firstly, it surprised me that I could remember all of the lyrics and proceeded to rap as if it was 1990, but it also reminded me of a parenting tool I use daily.

The strategy is one of cooperation and partnership. If you’ve read my column before, you’ll know that I have a very strong-willed child. He is independent, resilient and determined. All of these qualities are wonderful but, as I’m sure you can imagine, they can often result in power struggles between us because he knows what he wants.

Luckily, as a former solicitor, I am adept in the art of negotiation and boy, do I need this skill when parenting!

We know now that the “it’s my way or the highway” style of parenting isn’t conducive to a mutually respectful relationship. This style tends to either breed contempt and rebellion or submission and people-pleasing.

Collaborating with your child

Research tells us that collaboration is the way forward. Some parents struggle to collaborate with their children. They see it as a sign of weakness or they feel as if they’re losing control. But in fact, it’s the opposite.

When you are a calm, confident parent, you feel comfortable enough to share the power with your child. You work as a team. Some parents think it’s more efficient and easier to demand compliance, (which, in the short-term, it probably is) but do we really want to parent through fear and coercion?

It’s much easier to force a four-year-old to follow your commands, but it becomes trickier to do this as a 14-year-old. We need to send the message to our children that their voices are important.

Collaborating with your Child: Power vs Influence

As humans, we like to call the shots. Some of us prefer driving to being a passenger because we like to be in control. We want our children to be independent but only if they make good life choices. All of this is about control. But here’s the hard truth.

We can’t control anyone, except ourselves. What we should be aiming for is influence. We want to instil good values in our children so that their decisions are influenced by them. The good news is that we have the ultimate influence from birth by virtue of us being our child’s caregivers, but this wanes over time and friends, celebrities, social media etc. infiltrate our child’s consciousness and begin to influence them too.

Collaborating with your child

So how can we develop and maintain this influence? Through connection and collaboration. Every day we can have multiple little conflicts with our children. Some of these dissipate quickly, some of them, depending upon our mood, tolerance levels and our capacity for emotional regulation, can be drawn out and stressful and they can fracture the relationship.

If we can solve an issue by collaborating with our child, we can maintain the relationship and maintain our positive influence. When we have a parenting problem we can a) solve it ourselves without any input from the child; b) solve the problem collaboratively; or c) put the problem on hold.

Let’s think about a common issue of getting to school on time. Plan A would be to shout at our child, dish out punishments and force them to get out of the door. Plan B would be to discuss it calmly as partners before the incident. Plan C would be to put the solution on the back-burner but in the meantime, your child is routinely late for school.

Collaborating with your Child: The Key is Proactiveness

I’m sure you can see that Plan B seems like the most logical and least stressful solution in this particular circumstance. Dr Ross Greene, a clinical child psychologist, teaches us a 3-step Plan B way to solve problems with our children. He invites us to be proactive rather than reactive.

Let’s use another example of homework. Every time your child has work to do, it’s a battle. You scream, they scream and it’s horrendous. Dr Greene’s first step involves gathering information from your child with empathy.

“I’ve noticed that every time you have homework, you have a hard time sitting down and getting started. What’s up?” Listen and then ask a few pertinent questions. Don’t presume you know the answers.

Collaborating with your child

Then Dr Greene asks us to identify and express calmly our adult concerns. For example, you can share with your teenager that you’re worried about their lack of motivation. Don’t be confrontational; just honest.

“My concern is that you’re going to get into trouble at school. My concern is that you don’t understand the work.” When you share your worries, your child has an opportunity to share theirs.

Finally, you invite your child to collaborate on how to solve the problem. The solution needs to be mutually satisfactory. It has to address the concerns of both parties and it must be realistic. Be curious. Give choices.

“When would you prefer to do your homework?” “Would it help if you had some snacks or soft music playing when you’re studying?” With a Plan B strategy, children feel empowered but also supported. It’s hard to get that balance.

By The Words of Vanilla Ice…

Let’s be realistic; we can’t possibly solve every problem collaboratively otherwise we would never leave the house. There are some non-negotiables whereby you can’t collaborate but, in many cases, problems can be solved by effectively collaborating with your child.

Who would have thought that we could get parenting inspiration from Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice to you and I)? But if I may be so bold as to change the lyrics, I think it should be more “Alright Stop! Listen and collaborate.” Ok, now you have permission to rap…

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