Imagine driving home from work, exhausted. Your mind is running through a to-do list to get through before bedtime. Make dinner. Clean up after dinner. Homework check. Showers. Bedtime routine. And so on.
But once you get home, you find that that to-do list is interrupted by your crying 4-year-old, your picky 10-year-old, and sibling conflict. It feels like it is you against the children. You find yourself yelling at them, threatening them, and feeling out of control.
You are not alone. Many parents struggle just like you do (even if they don’t Instagram those difficult times and all you see if how perfect their lives are).
The good news is, parenting doesn’t have to be this difficult. You don’t have to be frustrated with your kids and feel like you have to fight them to cooperate with you all day, every day. Now, I’m not saying your kids are never going to challenge you and every day will run smoothly, because that’s impossible. What is possible is reducing the amount of conflict you have at home and feeling more in control during conflict.
Here are five tips for reducing parent-child conflict:
1. MAKE EYE CONTACT
Many times kids are not listening when parents speak to them. Their eyes are glued to the TV, or they’re engrossed in a game they’re playing. Many parents respond by getting upset and yelling, making children “tune out the noise.”
What you can do is walk over to your child, get on eye level with them, make eye contact, and speak to them. If you have never done this before, your child might challenge you, but keep your cool and give them clear directives.
If you find your child doing something they are not supposed to be doing, you can use the A-C-T technique:
- A—Acknowledge the feeling. Use one sentence to let your child know you understand how they feel or their desire.
- For example, “Johnny, I know you want to shoot your brother with the dart gun…”
- C—Communicate the limit. Let them know what the limit to their behavior is.
- For example, “but your brother is not for shooting.”
- T—Target alternative. Give your child an alternative behavior so they don’t fixate on the inappropriate one.
- For example, “We can draw a target and you can shoot at it instead.”
When you use this technique, you can validate your child while letting them know there are healthy limits. The alternative behavior can keep them from feeling as if they are not allowed to have fun.
3. SET CLEAR CONSEQUENCES
If you have tried the A-C-T technique and your child is still not listening, you can follow with a natural and related consequence to their behavior. For example, if your child cannot use the dart gun responsibly, then they lose the privilege of using it.
Setting a consequence like this places the responsibility on the child to make an appropriate behavior choice, rather than feeling like you are punishing them by not letting them watch their favorite show. Losing TV privileges is not a consequence that will likely make sense to your child. They may not see a connection between their favorite show and the dart gun.
4. GIVE CHOICES
When your child is not listening to a directive you give them, you can give them two choices. A choice can let your child feel valued. It can also keep the child from feeling as if they are stuck with a decision made by their parent.
For example, if it’s time for dinner, but your child won’t stop playing a video game to come to the dinner table, you can say, “Johnny, you can choose to play for 2 more minutes and then come to the dinner table, OR you can choose to have me turn off the game in 2 minutes and you will not play the game tomorrow.”
If you have to turn the game off for your child, you need to follow through with not letting them play tomorrow. By giving your child choices, you can give them the feeling of being in control and teach them responsibility.
5. CREATE A ROUTINE
Most children thrive on routine. It typically makes them feel safe and secure because they know what will come next.
If your children go to school, they have a routine at school which helps them go through their day in an organized way. When they get home, they can relax, but they still need routine. You can give them some free time when they get home, but let them know they have a set amount of time to relax and then homework time will follow.
If your children can’t tell time, you can use a timer and give them time to transition from downtime to homework time. Think of what your routine was when you were a kid and whether that worked for you. Talk to other parents about the routines they have for their kids and what is working for them.
Following these tips can help improve your relationship with your child and reduce conflict. It may not be easy at first, but if you keep at it, these behaviors often become easier with time. If you and your child continue to struggle, feel free to contact a family therapist or child counselor for support.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
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