When Opposites Attack (Overcoming Parent-Child Conflicts)

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

“You say potato, and I say po-tah-to; You say tomato and I say to-mah-to…”

That old Gershwin song described well how personality differences can cause conflicts – not just in adult relationships, but also between parents and kids. Can you identify with any of these scenarios?

You want to hurry to the supermarket. Your child – slowly and persistently – insists on tying his own shoes. Wait, just let him make that one loop… Very slowly… Oops. Start over. Or perhaps your child runs in two speeds: fast and faster, tripping over untied laces and knocking over produce.

You barely notice sounds, smells or fabric textures. She incessantly overreacts to neck tags and other “dreadful” stuff. You think she’s hysterical. She thinks you’re insensitive.Or maybe you’re the emotionally expressive one, and he’s hard to read. Getting him to tell you what’s on his mind is like pulling teeth.

It may help to know that your child’s level of persistence, attention span, energy level, sensory threshold and intensity of responses are traits he was born with. Yet recognizing your child’s temperament doesn’t necessarily make it easier to work together. Differences can provoke impatience or anger, but an understanding of these differences can prevent you from clashing and burning. Try these tips:

1) Assess your child’s unique traits without pigeonholing him

Personality typing often helps parents understand common clusters of traits. Highly energetic kids are frequently talkative and easily distracted. If you understand how traits are connected, you will be more patient and want to learn new parenting strategies. But remember: No two kids are alike. Expect your child to surprise you.

2) Go with the flow, either creatively or logically

Make an effort to fit the needs of your child’s temperament into your life to minimize conflicts. Is your bundle of energy desperate for attention when you can barely move a muscle? Pull your chair into the center of the room and have your child run a dozen laps around you while you cheer. For the sensitive child who hates neck tags, remove them right after purchasing new clothes.

3) Consider positive sides of “negative”traits

An easily distracted child is likely to be flexible and will gracefully let you stop in the middle of a board game you find boring. Your stubborn shoelace-looper soon will independently dress himself.

4) Be honest with your child about how differences can be used for good and can cause conflicts

Yes, tenacity and quick wit can be admirable. But Mom doesn’t want to debate a pint-sized lawyer every day over every issue. Celebrate when tenacity is used well (studying hard for a test, standing up for a friend), but impose consequences when he or she continually pushes against the rules.

5) Learn to compromise, and teach your child to do the same

A child who hates sudden transitions may appreciate five-minute warnings to wrap up activities. Parents and kids whose energy levels differ can make trades: “Stick with me, without complaining, until I can finish these errands. Then we’ll stop at an indoor playground where you can run like crazy.”

6) Take breaks when you need them

Keep tabs on your emotional meter. If you have stress, overdue bills and awoke twice last night because of your child, it won’t take much to make you impatient, annoyed or weepy. Forgive yourself if you overreact. Find another adult who can give you a little break to recharge <before you have a meltdown.

7) Focus on the positive

What in your child is excellent, worthy of praise, honorable and admirable? How often do you fix your thoughts on those attributes?

Your child is a gift, not just a responsibility. Pay attention to your child long enough to consider and value his or her admirable traits.

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