Have you ever been with a group of people and realize that all of a sudden an ugly scene between your child and someone else’s is unfolding? If you’re like most parents, you probably have. Sometimes they’re relatively harmless interactions which resolve themselves quickly. But other times these interactions become complicated tangles of emotional and sometimes even physical struggles that require adult intervention. But what happens when the adults don’t agree? Whose rules, parenting styles, or discipline techniques should prevail?
The answers depend on a few things. Like the children’s' age, who’s hosting the event, whether or not children are visiting with or without their parents, and what the relationship between the parents is. These all influence how a situation is resolved. If a squabble evolves between two or more children at your home, it might be easy to step in and state the fact that, "we don’t allow this kind of behavior at our house. Please give Tammy back her doll" (or whatever the offense was). Other times kids' different versions of the events complicate the situation.
Part of the solution should be teaching kids to control themselves rather than trying to control others. And the word, solution, should be foremost in everyone's mind. I can't tell you how many times I see adults and children who are all too focused on the problems rather than the solutions. Problem focused people see things negatively. They’re often angry, overwhelmed and stuck. While we need to be able to identify the problem before we can begin to find a solution, once the problem is identified, we need help your kids quickly switch to focusing on the exploration of solutions. Why not offer a few possible solutions and let them choose? This encourages children to accurate feel that they have control over their lives, the events around them and the ultimate outcomes. Giving your children choices and letting them make the decisions instills self-esteem and a feeling of self-control. Always telling them what to do how to solve a situation encourages dependency and a feeling that they have no control over their fate.
Another big part of the picture is how we deal with other parents and our differences in parenting styles and what we feel is okay or not. For example, you might incorporate time-outs in your home but other parents may not. Or, you might not allow your children to eat certain foods or play with certain types of toys like guns or swords. How do you handle these situations when other parents tell you that you’re going overboard? Do you just give in or do you stand your ground? You probably need to have some clear ideas about solutions yourself. The key is, if you feel strongly about certain issues, you really need to be firm and say something to the effect of, "you know, I’m really not comfortable with Johnny dueling with sticks." And then tell Johnny that, "in our family we don’t play with sticks that way." You might cause some tension with the other parents but you need to weigh the pros and cons of each situation. Are the risks are worth keeping the peace? Having spent many years working with children who have disabilities - some caused by accidents and injuries - I tend to err on the side of caution. I’d much rather have some temporary hard feelings or tension than take the risk of having a serious injury or worse yet, a permanent disability. Ultimately, if your values and ideas are very different than another child’s parents, then it may be time to reevaluate whether these are viable relationships.
So be clear about your rules, but be reasonable, too. If you find that your child can’t get control after trying to get them to make good choices, then it’s time to let them know that if they don’t get control, it will be time to go home or have their friend go home – that’s their choice too. “You can have Johnny here and play if you’d like to, but you need to play with something other than sticks – would you like to play another game or should I call his mother to pick him up? It’s your choice”. This is truly empowering your child to make good decisions. After all, isn’t that what we all want for our children - to feel empowered and to make good decisions in life?