Broken record when the conversation is broken.
I have written previously about the importance of conversing as a way of understanding and being understood; it is a pre-requisite to repairing ruptures between people. As parents we often need to lead the way with, “I want to understand you”, and then offering your child, “Would you like to understand me?” These are powerful words to foster cooperation with another person, and help us to not get caught in “control-combat-avoid” interactions…patterns that almost always end in loneliness.
Though you can offer a conversation a few times, if the other person is stuck in combative interactions, then attempting to converse is pointless. At these times, repeating yourself like a “broken record” is a useful way of staying on topic and enforcing boundaries, and not getting drawn into an argument or going off on a tangent, which may just bring up another topic to argue about. An example may be useful to illustrate this.
Child (angry): “I want to watch the ipad now!”
Parent (calm): “That’s not going to happen”
Child (more angry): “But mum let me do it yesterday”
Parent: “It’s not going to happen honey”
Child: “Why are you so weird. No other parent says no”
Parent: “That may be…but its still not going to happen”
Child: “But why not”
Parent: “We can talk about that later if you want, but it won’t change my decision now”
Child: “You are so mean. I want mum, she’ll let me”
Parent: “I know this annoys you. But you aren’t getting the iPad”
Child: “I hate you. You never do anything that I want”
Parent: “I’m sorry this annoys you so much”
Child: “No your not. You don’t care at all”.
Parent: “You can’t have your iPad”
Child: “But I’ve done everything you asked today. Why are you stopping me?”
Parent: “I’m really happy to discuss this with you if you want. When we’re calm let’s talk about it”
Child: “Will you let me on the iPad in the meantime?”
Child: “Why not”
Parent: “We can talk later about it. For now it is still a no”
The broken record works well because it prevents you from getting caught in combative debates at those times when the other person is too self-focused to be able to understand it from your perspective. When they use critical, offensive, rude or tangential comments to try to draw you into conflict, the broken record allows you to calmly stay firm on whatever boundary you have chosen. You are responding, but you are not reacting and taking it personally. It is your business, but it is not your problem.
Of course you would rarely “broken record” if the other person was calmly and thoughtfully trying to understand your perspective. If you did that, then they would reasonably think you are dismissing them and they would be understandably frustrated.
So next time you experience someone trying to dominate you with words, try the broken record approach and see if it helps you remain calm while reinforcing the boundary you are trying to uphold.
“When we are calm let’s talk about it and work it out”.