Determination vs. Determination Who Will Win?


Below is the type of conversation that most likely happens several times a day in homes that have children ages 2 to 18. The dialog is skeletal intentionally because it represents the format for hundreds of different conversations. The words may vary but the format is the same, you want one thing and your child wants something different. There could be endless variations to this conversation however each starts with two people each wanting a different thing.

You tell your child to do something.

They say no.

You say yes.

And they say no.

You insist.

They disagree.

You’re biggest and have more power so you win.

They cry a lot.

This is a classic example of a POWER STUGGLE – parent and child each trying to get what they want. Parenting would be so much easier if our children always just did what we told them to do, right? However that would produce a child/teenager who does not have the life skills to become a well functioning adult.

A very determined child can be so difficult to parent and yet a child needs lots of determination to grow up in this controversial world. So, our goal as parents should be to try not to squelch the very thing that would help them fight off negative peer pressure – DETERMINATION.

In the Sistine Chapel one whole, huge wall is filled with a huge mural titled ”Last Judgment”. An over simplified description: On one side of the painting it depicts a group of angels descending from Heaven to retrieve souls who are coming up out of their graves. There are demons sneaking out of a crevice in the earth grabbing the legs and arms of some who are trying to rise to heaven. In several cases there is a tug of war going on between the angles and horned demons with the resurrected body in the middle. In other sections some souls are trying to rise up because they want to get into heaven and the angles are pushing them back down.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit the thoughts I had when I first viewed this magnificent painting. I was definitely viewing it through the eyes of a parent, rather than an Art professor. I thought, “That’s how parenting feels sometimes”, lots of emotional pushing back and forth, a conflict of two competitors”. Then I thought, “Wait, parents and their children are on the same team so there should be no tug of war happening”. But there often is.

So, to avoid power struggles and help steer you child’s determination in the right direction, remember:  

Determination is a trait your child will need to survive in the world as they grow up.

Your job is not to break their will but help steer it in the right direction.

You and your child are “on the same team”. You should be pulling together rather than against each other.

Let your child be governed by choice and consequence rather than expecting them to do what you say because you are the parent.

Language Overextension

Three of my nephews fall in the 2-3 year old range.  One of my nephews was over today and he wanted to touch and use every new toy or object we brought out.  He kept declaring “MINE!”  It’s easy to think things like “Oh, kids are so greedy at this age” or “He is so egocentric and thinks everything belongs to him.”

But today as I heard this sweet little guy declaring that everything was his I had a thought.  While studying I read learning about overextension.  Feel free to read about it on Wikipedia.  Basically when kids overextend language they use one word to label anything that falls within a category.  For example they use the word “dad” for any grown male or “dog” for any animal with four legs.

As I heard my nephew announcing that everything we brought out was ‘his’ I thought about this principle.  Maybe, I thought, he doesn’t really think everything belongs to him, but he doesn’t have the words to express just what he wants to say.  Maybe he really means, “Wow!  This new toy is cool!  I want to hold it and use it for a while.” Or maybe he thought, “This is new to me and I’d like to figure out how it works.  Please don’t take it away before I find out how it works.”

Overextensions decrease as a child gains a larger vocabulary.  It also decreases as they receive corrective feedback.  So next time you hear a child yelling “MINE!” help model what they may be trying to convey.

When They Don’t Want to Talk…

I walked out of the reading lab to find a student sitting on the picnic bench outside my room.  Everyone else from 3rd grade was gone, but here he sat.  Serious, silent and visually distraught.  One of the instructional assistants sat next to him, looking lost.  I mouthed, “do you need help?” and she shook her head.

I walked over and crouched down to be at his eye level.  He avoided my eye contact but didn’t shy away.  I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t respond.  I told him that I would let the aide go to her next class and that I would sit with him for a little while.  I dismissed the other teacher and sat next to the 8 year old boy.  I asked him once more what was wrong.  Again, I was met with silence.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what might be bothering this little guy.  I decided that if he wasn’t up for talking to answer that maybe he could nod ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  I started in with a series of questions that could be answered with the movement of his head.  “Are you upset?” he shook his head.  “Are you hurt?”  He nodded.  I learned that he wasn’t upset but he was hurt.  It seemed like he was warming up to me ever so slightly so I tried to get a voiced answer.  “It it your feelings that are hurt?  Or it is your body?”  When the question elicited no verbal response I reverted back to the yes and no questions.  “Are you feelings hurt?” Head shake.  “Is your body hurt?” Nod.  “Did it happen on purpose?” Negative.  “Was it an accident?”  It was.  I felt relieved.  “It is your head?”  It wasn’t, so I tried again. “Is it your stomach?” Nope.  “Your back?”  Bingo.  We were getting somewhere–ever so slowly.  I kept asking and found out that it had happened that morning at home.  I repeated back what I had learned, so he knew I was paying attention and trying to help.  “So you hurt your back this morning at home and it was an accident?”  He nodded as his eyes filled with tears.

I wanted to get him to talk and tried to think about what might be holding him back.  I let him know that I wanted to help him.  I assured him that it was okay if he cried when he answered–I didn’t mind at all.  I continued and told him that I could tell he was having a hard time and I wouldn’t make him go back to class until he was ready.  That seemed to do it.  He slowly started talking and crying.  As we talked he opened up and told me more about what had happened.  I reassured him that it would be okay and I knew that being hurt was no fun.  I told him that we would walk to the nurse’s office together and she would know what to do to help with the pain.  I assured him that everything would be alright and I was glad he let me know what was going on.  As we walked he was able to tell me him name and who his teacher was.

When we got to the nurse’s office I passed along the information I’d gleaned.  The school counselor walked in and I relayed the information to her as well.  I left, knowing that he was in good hands.

The next couple hours I thought about this experience and tried to figure out what I had learned.  Here are a few things that can help when talking to a child who is having a hard time communicating.  (And many of these can work with adults as well.)

– Get on their level.  Crouch, kneel or sit so you are as close to eye level as possible.

–  Be patient. Don’t give up quickly.  Give them time to think, process your questions, and be ready to answer.

–  Ask ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions as needed.

–  Try to think of other factors that might be hindering their communication (in this case feeling anxious about crying or having to go back to class before they are ready) and try to ease those worries.

–  Let them know you care and you are sorry they are having a hard time.

–  Reassure them that it will be okay.

–  Acknowledge that you realize that it was difficult for them to share.  Let them know that you appreciate them opening up and sharing.