Happy New Year! Thank you to everyone for their kind words of both support and constructive criticism of the newsletters and videos I have created over the past year or so. I’ve had a few people ask if I could give some practical tips that work. I’ve also had feedback that people particularly like it when I use a story approach to explaining ideas. In view of this, this year my first few posts will be on my top five tips to creating a change in your relationship with your children.
Tip number one: “Permission Asking”
There is a time to dominate and tell. If there is a safety issue or a very serious problem that needs immediate resolution we as adults will step in and take over. But whenever we take over, we need to be very aware that we are making their problem our problem. Generally, when you take over and save someone, you are making them weaker, and giving yourself more work into the future. If you take over and tell, your child may anxiously submit to you, or angrily resist you, but either way they only know what you think and are not working out what they think. It can look a bit like this:
Parent: When were you planning on doing the dishes
Child: (headphones in, ignores the question)
P: (A bit frustrated) I said, when were you planning to do the dishes
C: What! (Headphones out).
P: (Annoyed) I said, when were you planning on doing the dishes!
C: I will later!
P: But when!
C: Later I said. Why are you always so pushy!
P: Why are you always so lazy! Go and do them now or I’ll turn off the computer.
C: Don’t touch it, I’m in the middle of homework!
P: Doesn’t look like homework to me
Etc, etc, etc No need to write anymore…you know how this will end in your own family. Each parent-child has a predictable script once combat has been joined, when the only outcome is to either dominate or avoid; to win or to lose, with loneliness between you at the end.
Permission asking is an alternative approach to use if the problem is not urgent, and bringing up a topic is likely to cause conflict between you and the other person. You are entering a conversation with the other person, but doing it from a position of cooperation, and thus much less likely to be drawn into combat. As you will see, it takes longer and requires more patience, but the benefit of not finding yourself in combat with your child and not avoidant at the end I think makes it worth it.
Here is how “permission asking” may look:
P: Hi honey. Is now a good time to have a chat?
C: (Headphones in, ignores the question)
P: (Louder, but not frustrated) Hello there. Can you hear me?
C: What! What do you want?!
P: (Back to normal voice) Just wanting to know if now is a good time to have a chat?
C: (Headphones still in) What?
P: (Point to headphones) You may want to take them out.
C: Nah. I can hear you, but be quick ok.
P: Sure. Just wanting to know if now is a good time to chat.
C: I’m busy, can’t you see.
P: No worries. So when would be a good time to talk.
C: What about?
P: About the dishes
C: Aaarghh. I’ll do them later alright!
P: Actually, I just need to know if now is a good time to talk about it or not.
P: OK. So give me the time we’ll do that.
C: I don’t know. Leave me alone.
P: Well, I can’t leave until you give me a time we agree upon. So when is a good time.
P: No, that’s no good. (Leave the silence)
P: I just need a reasonable time when you will come and we will talk.
C: (Goes back to the computer)
P: If you want me to go, you have to give me a time. I’m not leaving until I get a time that’s reasonable.
C: (Ignores the parent)
P: You know what happens if you don’t answer me. Remember what happened last time?
P: Would you like to know what will happen if you continue to ignore me?
P: This is your last chance to cooperate. My next move is to turn the power off to the computer (the child is on a desktop…if on a laptop, could turn the internet modem off or confiscate the charger to not be returned until the conversation is had)
P: (start moving towards the power point)
C: Leave it!!!
P: (Keep moving to the power point)
C: Ok, ok, lets talk.
P: Great, so is now a good time to talk about the dishes.
C: If I have to.
P: You don’t have to. It’s a yes or no. If it’s a yes, we go to the lounge room and talk. If it’s a no, that’s fine, just give me a reasonable time.
C: Fine! Lets talk about the stupid dishes.
P: Are you sure you’re ok enough to chat. You seem angry.
C: No shit Sherlock. You are the master of stating the obvious. Why do you always want to talk about things? You are so weird. None of my friends’ parents do that. Why can’t you just be normal? (An attempt to provoke you into anger / defensiveness / combat).
P: So I guess now is not a good time to chat. So when would be. (Parent didn’t get drawn in, and put the problem back on their child)
C: You’re so weird.
P: You’d rather I did this some other way? Do you want to talk about that too?
P: How about I come back in a couple of minutes and we try this again. (Walks out, goes back two minutes later) So what do you think. Shall we talk now or make another time.
C: Lets get this over with
P: I agree. This should be easy to fix.
P: So now is a good time
P: It’s just a yes or no honey
C: YES! (angry)
P: I’ll come back in a few minutes (walk out, wait a few minutes, goes back in) So is now a good time to talk?
P: Are you sure? If you wanted to finish your game that’s ok. Just give me a time when you will come and find me, but before nine o’clock
C: Nah. Now is good. Lets do it.
P: (Walk to the lounge room, child follows) Let’s make this quick hey. So, do you remember what we agreed about the dishes last time?
P: Just tell me what your understanding of our agreement was.
C: Whoever cooks doesn’t do the dishes and the others take it in turns.
P: And whose turn was it tonight?
C: I don’t know!
P: Do you need me to let you know?
C: Ok it was mine
P: And when did we agree the dishes would be done by?
C: By eight o’clock that night.
P: Would you like to know why I’ve come in now?
P: Well its just turned eight o’clock and the dishes are not done. Have you got any thoughts about what we should do?
C: Why don’t you do them if they are that important
P: Well, I can’t do that honey, it wasn’t what we agreed. Is there anything I can do to help you do the dishes?
C: I’ll do them later.
P: Not an option unfortunately as we agreed to the time earlier this week. We can make the time later from next week if we all agree. But right now the dishes need doing. So anything I can do to help you? I’ve got some ideas that might work
C: Like what
P: Well I could go out there with you and talk with you while you do them. Or I could help you do them this once if you want to ask me to help you. Or I could turn the computer off and it doesn’t go back on until the dishes are done.
C: No. I’ll just go and do them.
P: Great. Let me know if you need any help.
“Permission asking” can also be useful in other circumstances where you simply want to talk to your children.
If I ask my kids “How was your day?”, I typically get a one-word answer… “Good”.
If I “permission ask”, “Would you like to tell me how you day was?”, I get a yes or no. If it is a yes, I then ask “How was your day?” and I usually get a bit of a story. And if it is a no, I don’t ask, as they don’t want to tell me. And as an aside, I have found over time the more I listen to their story, and the less I judge / correct what they tell me, the more they seem to want to tell me.
It is so easy to enter a conversation with someone who has frustrated you from a combative position. By taking a deep breath and permission asking, you are much less likely to be drawn into unhelpful conflict.