Learning to Collaborate with Kids

Guest post by Amy Phoenix

Finding ways to parent healthily has been a necessity for me. My past contains a colorful number of startling experiences, both of my own actions and those of others, but none have been more startling than the rage I began to experience towards my first-born child as she reached the toddler years. I knew immediately, the first time it surfaced, that I had to change, for the rage was hurting both of us. It was obvious in the disruption of our previously healthy connection, and as it turned inward with thoughts of despair and self-hatred which plagued me on a regular basis.My first hope was to talk to other parents, and some of my elders. Unfortunately, many of them either supported or outright encouraged me to continue learning how to be more strict and firm. This only made matters worse. The more strict I became the more the rage felt justified, and the cycle continued.In desperation, I turned to what I thought were positive parenting books, and while some had helpful suggestions, many still peddled somewhat of an idea that parents must remain in power over their children. This notion stuck with me, and fed the dysfunction I experienced when I would get into power struggles with my child.Finally, I came to a breaking point one day when I lashed out at my daughter and saw how clearly my actions were hurting both of us, and her little brother who was witness to it all. I knew I needed help.The first person to help, parent coach Scott Noelle of The Daily Groove, was also the first person to formally introduce me to the idea of collaborating with kids. Scott believes that the greatest gift we can give our children is to enjoy them. He focuses on doing this through an approach he calls PATH – which stands for partnership, authenticity, trust and heart. Partnership, and collaboration, form the basis of an authentic, trusting and heart based relationship between parent and child.Honestly, I thought Scott and others who embraced this way of thinking (i.e. Alfie KohnJennifer McGrail of The Path Less Taken) were a little nutty and unrealistic, but I was also extremely intrigued. I wondered if and how it could be possible to really parent effectively this way. Turns out the answer is yes.Fast forward a few years, a few more children (now five), some behavior challenges, domestic violence and general family dysfunction – and I felt like we were a living experiment of what doesn’t work. At my wit’s end continually, I fervently searched for support and resources to address the dysfunction in new ways. I started to wonder if we could put the “fun” back in dysfunction.

That’s when I began to more deeply explore power and collaboration in the context of parenting. What I continue to find is that the standard cultural norm in our world puts the parent in power and the child is expected to comply, largely powerless to the adult (if we’re honest with ourselves). Even parents/adults who might see the fallacy of this can fall prey to its clutches.

Collaboration, on the other hand, offers a powerful alternative which allows us to actually relate to kids respectfully, honoring their innate worth and potential. We learn to own our personal power to choose – in general and our thoughts, perspectives, responses to our emotions, boundaries, values, etc. – while supporting the same in our children. We acknowledge that we all have power and can learn to utilize it wisely, to choose and to work together – to collaborate. No other approach to parenting has brought more healing and health to our family that in my choice to learn how to collaborate with my kids. There are still challenges, and our skills are growing in how to collaboratively handle them.

One might wonder what this looks like in real life, and why it can be so beneficial. As Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child notes, collaborating with kids changes the way we view, talk about and talk with children. Dr. Greene outlines that the standard approach to behavior problems is Plan A – adult imposes will to control child/situation. With explosive children especially, but also many children in general, parents imposing their will leads to power struggles and worse which often brings both parent and child to move more into control and away from the connection and collaboration that is so desperately needed. Dr. Greene offers Plan B – collaborating with kids, and Plan C – taking some expectations off the table while working on more important issues and/or to evaluate the expectations and see if they’re necessary or realistic anyhow.

Plan B is better than gold. Here’s why: collaborating with kids isn’t a tactic to control them (which will eventually backfire anyway), it’s a way to connect, learn and support both parent/adult and child in developing healthy communication and problem solving skills. Collaboration rightly acknowledges the power both parents and children have so it can most healthily be developed and utilized.

We learn to collaborate by being willing to work together with our kids. Dr. Greene breaks this down into three clear ingredients: change your lenses to check your beliefs about your child and see your child more accurately, identify lagging skills and unsolved problems and then, solve problems. It sounds simple, and it is, but peeling back layers of beliefs, changing them and learning the skills needed collaborate may initially be exhausting. As adults, we may find that we have a host of our own lagging skills and unsolved problems, which is one aspect of this approach that is beautiful: we get to grow right along with our children if we choose.

As we learn to see our children more accurately, identify lagging skills and unsolved problems, we get to come to the table (or couch) and problem solve. We start to listen to our children’s concerns while we bring ours and then brainstorm possible solutions, decide on some, give them a try for a predetermined amount of time and then reassess as needed.

Collaboration becomes the mode of problem solving in the family, which allows us to leave punishment behind and never go back. We begin to clearly see that punishment doesn’t create the results we want in our families and the collaborative approach helps everyone learn valuable problem solving and communication skills. As we support ourselves and our children in growing into our strengths, problem solving is one skill we all need. It’s a win win.

For more information on how to put collaboration into action in your family…

Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.

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