One of the things we all run into- whether as parents, or just as people- is where we set our boundaries. What behavior is okay with us? What’s not okay? What are the house rules? When does someone cross a line?
The next issue, of course, is how do we deal with this “violation” of often unspoken rules. If someone keeps pushing us after we have been clear and said no- what is your next move? How do you make it irrevocably clear that the argument is over? That you are not changing your position?
One of my children is a masterful debater. It’s pretty impressive. He can see holes in any argument, come up with compromises, misdirect- it’s actually kind of amusing to watch, when you aren’t the one in the middle of the conflict with him. He’s the child for whom the boundaries and rules must be the most clear and unwavering, because if you give him an inch, it’s over- he owns you.
The challenge for us lately has been to make sure he understands when I get to the point where I am done debating. Like most parents, I am willing to hear my kid’s point of view, acknowledge their position, but once I have made a decision, it’s done. I may give reasons, but I’m not open to being badgered and constantly revisiting the issue at hand. While I admire “the attorney’s” persistence, I often get to a point where my patience runs out and I resort to raising my voice or even employing colorful language to let the child know the debate has ended.
I’m not proud of losing my temper from time to time. I know tell your child to leave you alone and to give it up already are not particularly stellar moments in parenting. But I also know that I need to construct firm and immovable boundaries, both so the Debater feels safe, but also so he understands command and control. Sometimes you don’t have control and can’t make all the decisions. Sometimes No is the answer, even if you want it to be yes. Sometimes, there are reasons and things you aren’t ready to know, or people don’t want to share, and you have to accept you can’t get your way or cajole them into it. Sometimes, you need to think about how your actions make the other person feel.
One thing that has seemed to work to end the debate is to get out the white board and list the child’s issue. We list the points, the complaints, and make sure every single one is heard. Then we try to figure out solutions, asking him to come up with ideas to make things better, and how to solve the problem rather than just complain about it. I think this has helped him both get to the end of the list of issues he has, as well as helped me point out any common themes to the complaints and issues. By taking the complaints from being abstract to concrete, and finding a way to move forward, looking for solutions and things we can both do to make things better, it takes a lot of the emotion out of the situation and focuses it on making things better. It puts a fence around the problem and contains it, much like the boundaries I’m trying to set for him in the first place.
Setting boundaries and being consistent is often the toughest job in parenting. But it’s often what we need to do for our kids and for ourselves. Now if I can just transfer this skill into my relationship with others, I’ll be set.
Photo graciously provided by Ben Oh, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved