One of my favorite Aesop Fables is the story of the contest between the sun and the wind. They challenged each other to see who could get the coat off of a traveler walking on a road. The Wind blew and blew, and the traveler held on to his coat tighter and would not let go. The Wind could not get the traveler’s coat off. Then it was the Sun’s turn. The Sun simply came out from behind the clouds and shone and radiated warmth. The warmth of the sun warmed up the man and the man willingly took his coat off by himself.
The moral of the story is that kindness and gentleness is better than force and bluster in a relationship. That is what choosing connections in parenting – and all relationships is all about.
Choosing connections is about focusing on the relationship when we make choices as a parent. Start with the basic concept that may take some time to acknowledge- we can only control ourselves and everything we do is a choice including our actions, thoughts and feelings. When we understand this, we can make better choices to have better relationships.
So much of parenting is trying to get children to obey because we know what is best for them. Granted, of course we do! We’ve lived longer, we have more experience and we’ve been in their shoes as a child. But try to remember being in those little shoes as a child when your own parent told you to do something. If it was something that you did not want to do, you were probably resentful but did it to avoid consequences. It wasn’t about relationship, it was about power. That wind probably could have eventually gotten the traveler’s coat off if it tried long enough and hard enough, but it would not have been the traveler’s choice. When we try to make others to do what we want them to do, it is called external control. We often are successful in using external control, especially when we are in a power position such as a parent, but controlling others doesn’t enhance a relationship. What if we can focus on the relationship and still have mindful children who will listen to us because we have a strong relationship with them?
William Glasser came up with a theory of choices in relationships in the 1960s. He specified behaviors that are connecting and behaviors that are focused on external control. The Gottman Institute that specializes in the science of relationships has a similar list. You will probably recognize these behaviors in all of your relationships, not just your parent/child relationships.
External control behaviors:
When you cut out controlling behaviors that are meant to change a person, you will find that you have a better relationship with that person. And amazingly, you will discover that each of you are going to be better listeners, more empathetic, and more willing to negotiate to get each of your needs met because you have a strong, trusting relationship. Even if you are the only one practicing connecting behaviors, it has a powerful effect on the relationship. Recognize, that you can only control your own choices, and teach your child the same. When you are at an impasse with your child, you can only offer what you are willing to do to find a solution and teach your child to do the same.
Challenge: Before you speak, think, “how will what I am about to say affect our relationship?” Focus on connection. Try to go a whole day without any of the external control behaviors. If it is too much to remember, chose one or two to start with. Start small, the first stage of changing a habit is to first recognize how often it is happening in your life. You may not know you are doing it. Trying to go one day without using external control will help bring awareness about how often you may be using one or several of these behaviors. Maybe put a rubber band on your wrist and switch it from one wrist to another every time you catch yourself choosing one of these behaviors. If you make it one day, set a new goal of two days, three days, a week.
This is just an introduction to a much deeper concept, and probably brings up a lot of “what if” questions. I am happy to help you develop a plan to connect while raising a child with rules and respect in the household if you would like to book a coaching session. Also, I will be offering a parenting class soon that goes deeper into this concept. Please email me if you would like to be notified when the class is available.
Glasser, William (1998). Choice Theory. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
The Gottman Institute: https://www.gottman.com/parents