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Raising Kids Who Keep Their Cool

Of all the lessons that are learned by observation, one of the most important lessons is how to express disagreement.  Kids learn how to handle disagreements by observing how their parents and others in their environment handle disagreements.

Most kids are naturally emotive.  The degree to which a kid is emotive depends on the basic nature inherent in each kid, but most kids can and do learn over time how to change the way they handle things so that they can be more like their parents, friends, babysitters or other people that they hold dear.

It is, therefore, very important that you consistently model the behaviors that you want your kids to exhibit.  Examples include the following.

As you and your spouse approach a subject of disagreement, begin by calmly acknowledging the disagreement.  Promise to hear and consider your spouse’s perspective, and ask that your spouse return the courtesy.  Where one spouse cannot persuade another, use negotiation to seek compromise.  If you want to eat at home, and your spouse wants to go out to eat, then perhaps you can have the entrée at home and dessert at an ice cream parlor.  If you want to go to the theatre, and your spouse wants to rent a DVD movie, then perhaps you might agree to your spouse’s wishes this evening in exchange for your spouse agreeing to your wishes on a designated later date.  When the disagreement has been resolved, thank your spouse for working with you to craft the resolution (i.e., “Thanks for compromising with me!”).

Sometimes, disagreements cannot be successfully resolved.  In these instances, let your kids hear how you reason through your decision-making process.  It may go something like this, “Well, that was really poor customer service, and the manager didn’t even seem to care.  If I file a grievance with the corporate office, will that be helpful, hurtful, or ineffective, and to whom?  Would I be better served if I just walked away and just never shopped here again?  Are any of my core values being challenged by my response or non-response?  For example, if I failed to notify the corporate office, would that speak poorly of my character?  Is there a greater issue at play here?  For example, was the customer service rendered poorly because of my membership in a protected status (race, gender, disability, etc.)?  How many people were/may be affected by this situation?”

There are few universal truths in life, but here is one of the few:  kids will be exposed to conflict somewhere, somehow, sometime.  Either parents can let their kids see the conflict and help shape how the kids handle it, or parents can shelter their kids from conflict (in essence, denying that it exists) such that the kids’ only exposure to conflicts and resolutions will be playgrounds and other venues outside the parents’ influence.

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