Number 2: the broken record

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Have you ever tried to calmly address an issue with your child? And suddenly find yourself in a heated argument about something that has nothing to do with what you were initially trying to achieve. Going off on a tangent or changing the topic is a great strategy to get you unsettled, not follow through, and drags you into saying or doing something that makes you look like the bad one. It can happen in any type of relationship, but children particularly use it well. It can look a little like this.

 

Parent: Hey buddy. 7:35 so you know what to do.

Child: Noooo! I don’t want to turn the TV off now.

P: Well you just have to. That’s the rules.

C: Your rules are shit.

P: Don’t swear.

C: You do.

P: Rarely.

C: But you do swear. I heard you yesterday.

P: Whatever. We are talking about the rules.

C: Your rules, not mine.

P: Do you live in this house that I pay for

C: I didn’t ask to

P: So you want to live elsewhere do you.

C: If I could I would.

P: Well be our guest. Until then it’s our house, our rules.

C: Yeah. YOUR rules.

P: Well we invited you to join us to make the rules but you said no.

C: Well, what’s the point of me joining in. You never do what I want anyway.

P: That’s laughable. What did we just do all weekend? Who were we driving around everywhere?

C: But you never eat where I want. You always do what Matt wants. It’s always “but he has coeliac disease”. We never eat where I want to.

P: So what should we do, go get pizza and get him sick. Is that what you want? Him to get sick? Why don’t you start considering other people sometimes.

C: Why don’t YOU start thinking about what I may want.

P: What do you think we do everyday. A bit of gratitude might be nice sometimes for what we did do.

C: A bit of fairness would be nice

P: Fairness! You have no idea what fairness is.

C: I know you are unfair. You are always taking him into the city, getting him special things.

P: Those things are called medical appointments. I’d love to not go. You should be grateful you are well. So ungrateful.

C: Well you should realize you have two children and not one.

 

And on it goes, defense and attack. You were initially attempting to simply impose a pre-agreed rule about TV, and you end up in combat about long-term and deeply rooted issues of fairness. And the TV is still on. And you will likely both be going to bed in a huff.

 

Now going off on a tangent can occasionally be useful as it may bring up topics that do need discussion. But most of the time, we just want the house to run smoothly without all the angst about the small things. And you aren’t going to repair anything with your child while you are both defending and attacking.

 

The “broken record” is an alternative strategy that can be useful when emotions are high. It is a very simple strategy (these are usually the best) as by simply repeating what you are saying in a calm way, it is impossible for you to get drawn into side issues and side arguments.  You aren’t defending yourself, and you aren’t attacking them…you are simply and calmly enforcing the rules. Here’s how it may look:

 

Parent: Hey buddy. 7:35 so you know what to do.

Child: Noooo! I don’t want to turn the TV off now.

P: I know you don’t. But the TV has to go off.

C: But the show is almost finished.

P: The rule is at 7:35 the TV has to go off no matter what is on.

C: But that’s not fair.

P: We can talk about fairness if you want, but right now the TV goes off.

C: But why!

P: The TV has to go off.

C: WHY!

P: The TV has to go off

C: But it only has a short time to go.

P: I hear you. You know what to do.

C: I’m not going to

P: Well you don’t have to, but you know what will happen if you don’t. So you may as well turn the TV off.

C: You make me so angry.

P: Sorry about that

C: You’re not sorry at all, you’re mean

P: TV has to go off.

C: You let Matt stay up.

P: That’s true. But for you the TV goes off now.

C: So unfair. You are so unfair. You always do things for Matt. His restaurants, always taking him into the city. You have two kids remember.

P: Fairness is important, I agree. Do you want to talk about this?

C: What’s the use, you won’t change.

P: Its still an offer if you want it. We can talk about fairness later if you want, but right now the TV has to go off.

C: Its always later for you isn’t it.

P: We can do it later if we are calm enough, but right now the TV has to go off

C: “The TV has to go off, the TV has to go off” You are so weird. Why can’t you be normal like other parents.

P: I think you know what to do.

C: What!

P: Do you need me to repeat it again?

C: I’ll turn it off just to shut you up. (TV goes off)

P: Excellent. So, are we ok or do we need to talk about the rules? Or fairness?

C: No. I’m going to bed.

P: No problem. I’ll come up in a few minutes and say goodnight.

 

A common idea in parent work is, “Never defend yourself when emotions are high”. If you resist the attack, the attack usually increases, and there is certainly no cooperation or repair of the rupture in the relationship. The broken record allows you to step out of the battle while gently but firmly holding to the topic at hand that needs resolving.