Today’s Table Talk is by our friend, and as of this week published author, Andy Kerckhoff. He has been kind to share his wisdom with us since themoatblog began. As a teacher and parent of tween/teens, he has a unique vantage point from which to offer advice, direction and commiseration. Here’s a link to his new book, Critical Connection. You can also find Andy at his blog, on Twitter and Facebook.


So many arguments between parents and children arise over choices. Which restaurant will we go to for dinner? When will you do your homework? Can he go to the mall with his friends tonight? Some of those choices are for the parent to make as the benevolent dictator of the family, and others are fine for the child to make. Often, it is a negotiation, and the child often has the greater will.

Before you can give a child a choice, whether it is in the kitchen or in the car, you have to be in control of yourself. You cannot, must not, give children choices or power just because you are sick of hearing them whine and complain. Instead, you have to get yourself into gear and make sure you’re not frazzled, fried, or frustrated. That’s easy to say, but what do you do when your child is angry and you are losing patience?

You have to downshift. Decelerate the conflict. Consider these wise words from Danny Silk, a man who seems to have mastered the art of resolving conflicts with his teens.

When your child wants to argue with you, these one-line phrases are your best friend. They are your sanity. They are a way for you to kick your brain into neutral while the other person is trying to drive you into the Crazy Ditch. They help you become sort of like a cloud, something that doesn’t react—something that cannot be controlled. When your kid is throwing a fit, it is absolutely the worst time to have a reasonable conversation with that person. Your child is absolutely emotionally wasted. Your child is not looking for solutions at this time; he or she is looking for victims. This is a good time to just be a cloud. Say, “I know. I’m sorry.” You are telling your child, “I am going to manage me while you struggle with you.”

To decelerate an argument, you have to stop lecturing and start giving very short responses to your child’s complaining, whining, worrying, and begging. Here are some other key phrases that will decelerate an argument:

  • I know.
  • I’m sorry.
  • Oh, no.
  • That’s a bummer.
  • I don’t know.
  • Probably so.
  • What do you think you can do about it?
  • How can I help you fix your problem?

You are not giving in. You are strong, firm, and in control, but you are not fighting. You are trying to defuse the situation and get your thoughts together. You are thinking about how you can give your child some choices that will please both of you. You are searching for win-win situations.

Ideally, you will help them solve their own problems. We can help them most by guiding them to see some of their choices. “We give our children real choices when we show them two ways to get something done and either way is fine with us . . . We can empower them to make good choices by offering two powerful choices.”

I am not advocating giving in to all the wishes of children or fixing all their problems. Absolutely not! But we should listen to their problems and seriously consider how to help them solve their own problems. And we should listen to their wishes and try to give them real choices that are good for them, whichever ones they choose.

Kids need to be heard, to be given choices, and to learn to solve their own problems. Parents, teachers, and coaches need to be in charge and under control if they’re going to train kids to grow up well, and not spoiled or neglected. It is not easy, especially when you are on the edge of the crazy ditch, but in the long run, your kids will learn to flourish with real freedom.

About the Author: Andy Kerckhoff has served in various capacities in education for 20 years and is the author of the blog and Critical Connection.

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