When children beg to differ from our point of view, or simply say “no” to us, we struggle to indulge that. While some parents might accept and even admire this difference of opinion, the common reaction is to shift gears into preaching or proving their own point. Such conversations end with the usual statement: “we are your parents” or “we know what we are talking about”.
I do agree that sometimes these arguments might be immature, and at times severely annoying. But just the fact that your child is disagreeing with your opinion indicates a complex brain and character function. In fact, if one had to break it down, it would be a three-pronged analysis: forming an opinion involves observation, processing and recruiting brain faculties. Being assertive in communicating a viewpoint requires strength of belief and self confidence. And, lastly, to disagree with someone indicates critical thinking and application of previously learnt material or memories.
Unfortunately we often miss appreciating the value and beauty of this process, leave alone encouraging it. In some cultures, disagreeing with an adult is seen as poor conduct. Most offence is taken due to our stigma and social constructs around age, status and even content. Parents believe we must be listened to and instructions merely be followed.
To allow our ego, insecurities and emotions to interfere with the development of our child’s personality and belief systems can be paradoxical to our ambitions as parents. One key point, during disagreements, is to remember not to take this personally. Our kids are disagreeing with a concept, rule or decision. Don’t make it about you.
Instead, what can be discussed and communicated is “how” we disagree with each other. Boundaries must be laid around words, pitch, behaviour and language. Add to this a simple reminder of “how you feel”, when these are not respected. This will simmer down an argument to a discussion.
Getting emotional often makes us retaliate, threaten, use sarcasm, mock or break down over our “sacrifices” as parents. Instead of setting such pitiful examples for our children over disagreements, it is important we demonstrate a more accepting environment for individual thinking. It is alright to hold up our views but at the same time respect them having different ideas and beliefs than yours.
Avoid active or passive aggression, and appreciate the growth of an independent mind.
Conflicts are inevitable but they do not have to be detrimental to the relationship.
Being a good listener, making observations, and respecting the other person's perspective demonstrate a secure and open minded approach, which your child will most likely emulate.
Ask questions, stay calm and repeat what you hear just to double check what you have understood. Ask if you have it right, and repeat some key points discussed, followed by your view. This communicates you were listening actively and have regard for the other’s views.
Keeping disagreements respectful is not enough. They must also be constructive.
The best way to get our children to become empathetic, assertive and strong willed individuals is to allow them a participative, engaging yet calm space to speak their minds. If we make the choice of focussing on their brains’ unique processing of information resulting in different perceptions we could actually start to enjoy these disagreements.
Among all the learning pressures, rapid biological, cognitive, neurological, psychosocial growth and establishment of an identity, it can help to have parents who are open to hearing the views that children feel invested in.
The decision of balancing authority, autonomy, and responsibilities is subjective to you, precious to your family and unique to your culture. I’m not insisting on it. But I’m hoping to draw your attention to the little person who wants you to listen to her mind, going beyond our judgements of propriety and need of being right.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.