The two most powerful words in your parenting stress-reduction toolkit are “Yes” and “And.”
You’d be surprised by the difference these simple words can make. Let’s take a closer look using two common examples of parent-child power struggles.
Your son is arguing with you about doing his homework. He wants to keep playing his video game that he’s about to take to a new record high level. Your daughter is arguing with you about going to bed, she wants to stay up and keep chatting with her friends online.
You say, in one manner or another, “NO! – Stop it right now and do as your told.” You tell them they can’t do it. You try to explain or rationalize, “BUT you need to get that work done, your project is due tomorrow and you’ve had all week” or “BUT you’ve got to get some sleep, so you can do well on your test tomorrow/not be so grumpy/allow me some down time/etc.
Your child is being oppositional and defiant, you think. You assert more authority, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Either way, you’re unhappy with all the arguing and so are your children. You’re tired of fighting AGAINST them. They’re tired of being nagged by you. You two are BUTTING heads – on opposite sides of the argument.
Instead, you respond to your son, “YES, I know that computer game is important to you, AND you still need to get your project done. So, you need to save the game and turn it off within two minutes, or I’ll turn it off for you. Then we’ll get your project out of the way…”
Your son starts with “BUT…” You don’t take the bait. You calmly, even compassionately, reply, “YES, I understand it’s hard to stop when you’re on a roll, AND it’s still time to be done and get back to work. Deep breath, you can do it. I’ll help if you need it. AND when you show me you can get off quickly and quietly, then you may return to the game when your project is completed. If you keep arguing, you’ll be done with the game for the day (or week). Your choice. I hope you make a good one.”
End of discussion. You disengage, and execute the stated plan, lovingly and firmly. You are at peace, clear with your intentions, and following through with what you say. Yes, you are aware of your child’s struggle, and you’re helping them learn to deal with it.
You tell your daughter, “YES I know you don’t want to go to bed right now, AND it’s still your bedtime, so you need to say goodbye for now and log off within the next five minutes (set timer).”
She tearfully or angrily starts with “NO, you don’t understand…” or “BUT you’ve got to let me stay up, my friend really needs to talk to me about this problem she’s having…” or “NO, I don’t need to go to bed now, that’s a stupid rule, all my other friends can stay up as late as they want…”
You empathically reply, “(YES) I understand that you really enjoy talking with your friends, AND still this is the rule we agreed on, it’s bedtime. So, let’s take a deep breath and call it a night calmly, so you can enjoy your computer privileges again tomorrow. I know you can, kiddo, and I hope you do.” End of conversation; disengage emotional debates; execute the stated plan.
With “YES…AND…” you’re on the same team. You’re not the opponent. You are working WITH your child to solve the dilemma, not working AGAINST each other. (Despite what he or she may say in the moment!)
You’re helping your child deal with his or her inner conflict, not making you the bad guy and externalizing the conflict. You’re helping your child become self-aware of his/her feelings – reflecting those feelings and redirecting your child about what to do about them. You’re teaching your child emotional self-regulation and self-discipline. You’re empathically responding to their feelings or struggles, while clearly and firmly holding them accountable for their behavior choices. You’re teaching them how to do things, even when they don’t want to.
When you get sucked into the “NOs” and “BUTs” of an argument, you are fighting an ongoing battle of exclusion – us versus them. When you come from an inner place of understanding and acceptance – which is reflected in the language of “YES…AND” – you are being inclusive. You are joining together to overcome a life challenge.
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a child psychologist, mindfulness teacher, and father of four. Learn more about his educational programs and private consultations at www.AMindfulVillage.com.