Stay On Target

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Have you tried to address a problem with one of your kids, and somehow you end up arguing about something else entirely, and the issue was not resolved?

One way of avoiding being parented is to go off on a tangent and creating a new topic to argue about.  It is a classic misdirection, and is particularly effective if the new topic provokes strong emotions in the parent.

Some kids are quite skilled at this.

If one of your children uses this as a pattern of avoiding important discussions, it is worth having a plan before trying to address problems that matter.

Step 1: Am I cool enough?  If you are already emotional, it is more likely their attempt at changing the subject will work.

Step 2: Permission asking.  “Is now a good time to talk about something important?” You are entering the conversation from a position of cooperation. Assuming they said yes, then they have agreed to talk about that “something”, and can be reminded of this.

Step 3: State the thing that needs to be addressed. “I’d like to have a conversation with you about ……… . Are you sure now is a good time for this?” If you get another yes, then go ahead.  If not, then ask when a good time would be, and retry then.  You can find a video here about one way a conversation can progress.

Step 4: Validate their tangential topic (“fairness is important to you”), but then broken record the original topic by repeating step 3 (“but right now we are talking about …….. so let’s get back to that for now”).  

Tangents to prevent the discussion of the problem come in many shapes and sizes, and can include:

  • bringing up some mistake you’ve made from the past
  • criticising you for making things a big deal, “No other parent does this”.
  • saying you are hypocritical, “Well you never ……….”
  • bringing up their own complaints or concerns about something else

DON’T defend yourself against their complaint.  Instead, validate it and agree to discuss it later, “But first we needs to talk about ………”  At this point they will likely escalate the tangent or try another one.  Again, validate their comment “Well, we can talk about that too at another time.  Right now we need to work out what to do about the topic I brought up at the start”

By having a plan you are more likely to stay cool, calm and connected, and to stay on target.