Rules of Engagement

shadow talk

Have you noticed that disagreements with your child quickly get out of control as they seem to masterfully use your words to make their point and pull in all other unrelated issues like a giant magnet? You become exhausted as you parry and thrust to get your point across and win the argument as you rightfully should as the grown up.


Lay some ground rules. Really. If you know you are about to have a discussion and you have very different opinions on the matter, stop and give the rules. It will keep you both focused on what the goal of the discussion and hopefully keep you both focused on problem solving.


I’m not a boxing fan, but I’ve watched enough old movies where I’ve seen them go over the rules of a fair fight before beginning the match.


Rule #1: We both only get to say how “I” feel. We can say,

“I feel like you don’t trust me,”


“ I feel frustrated”


We are not allowed to say what the other person is feeling or thinking, because we don’t know.  We shouldn’t say:

“You don’t trust me!”

“You hate me!”


Rule #2: No Yelling. This is not about domination; this should be about communication and you each getting to say how you feel. When there is yelling involved, it’s a power struggle and you ae both going to be less interested in what the other has to say.


Rule #3: You are both only allowed to say what you will do to contribute to the solution. This is the key. The criticizing, blaming and shaming will not solve any problems and will make the problem worse. Instead, offer what you can do to solve the problem- even if the problem is something your child is or is not doing. Show that you care and you are willing to help. This may take a lot of self-reflection ahead of time as you try to sort out your needs or expectations, and how you can cooperate with your child to get there. It may be that your expectations need to change. You can even tell them that- that would be a conversation starter that will get your child’s attention! Is it a chore? How important is it that the child needs to do the chore, or it just needs to be done? Could you offer to do it with them? Spend some quality time, and maybe show your child some skills to make the task less overwhelming?


Rule #4: Boundaries. If either of you need to walk away, say so and do so. I don’t mean storm off when tension is high, I mean before one of you lose it and regulating yourself isn’t working, say that you need to take a break and talk about this later when you can calm yourself. Make an appointment. Say, “can we try this again in 10 minutes, (or an hour, whatever you need.)” Stop yourself before you say something you will regret.


Everyone has needs, when there is conflict, you need to slow down and talk and find out what each other’s needs are, and how can you both meet those needs.


Remember, discipline is helping a child solve a problem, punishment is causing a child to suffer because he has a problem.

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