Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 28, Tuesday July 17, 2007



In the age-old tug-o-war between parents and children, one disgruntled mother chose to take a more practical stock of her situation and sought help from Star Lifestyle's Interpreter of Maladies. Here's what the Interpreter had to say…

Dear Dr. Nighat Ara,
I have an only child and my daughter is pampered to the core, but not "brattishly " spoiled. Now she is going through some changes that all pre-teenagers go through and since I'm working and leading a stressful life, whenever we get a chance to spend time together we end up fighting. I don't want to do this; I don't want to take my stress out on her. And recently she has started defying me. I want to have a healthy, stress-free, friendly relationship with her. At this stage it is very important to be friends with her and I really want to be on good terms. How can I achieve this?

It seems that you are finding difficulty in handling stress and tend to displace it on your child. Building healthy stress management capacity and protecting your child from being an easy victim are the goals you would probably like to achieve. Your intention to spend some quality time with your daughter, that ends up in a vicious cycle of fighting might be an outcome of a poor communication style too.

Failure of effective communication can happen for various reasons like bad timing (e.g. after a long stressful day, it is always wise to take some time to freshen up first or rest a while before jumping in to another high demanding situation), interruption (e.g. avoid multitasking like answering phone-calls, preparing supper and having a conversation altogether), preoccupied mind (e.g. trying to leave work behind when leaving the workplace, staying focused on the present moment), unresolved past issues (e.g. past conflicts and resentments if remained unresolved may pop up unwarrantedly to ruin this present interaction), inappropriate choice of words (e.g. exploring if a particular word, posture or expression is triggering the other to respond negatively), preconceived ideas (e.g. “she doesn't love me” or “she can never appreciate me” or any such negative presumption can spoil the opportunity). Reacting to each other (instead of acting on behalf of self) is often another contributing factor in a vicious cycle of fighting.

We all have stresses in life, an optimum amount of which is good for productivity though feeling distressed by it gets counterproductive. Identifying the sources of stress and developing an adequate coping strategy to deal with it is a key factor in a healthy lifestyle. Some people are more affected by stress than others and can get mentally too upset or even fall sick by it. Building a good social support system, cognitive behaviour therapy to change perception and reaction style, relaxation techniques to increase over all stress bearing capacity are all important tools in dealing with stress.

Encouragement is one of the most important aspects of child raising. It is observed that our homes, classrooms and communities (society as a whole) give a series of discouraging experiences to many children who eventually become overburdened by it. On the contrary, too often encouragement is given to those who need it the least. Try to understand your child and her needs from you. Since parents are idealised by most children, as a role model to her, a parent's choice of behaviour has an enormous impact on a child's learning process.

As soon as you start flying off the handle and sense a conflict starting, here are some hints for de-escalating the conflict-

Speak softer and slower; make eye-to-eye contact.

Use a positive body language (take a deep breath, legs and arms uncrossed, relax the tightened up muscles, sit or stand at her level etc).

Keep reminding yourself and her that “we can find a win-win resolution to this”.

If necessary take a break to collect your thoughts and dampen the tension.

Express yourself in “I messages” (e.g. “I feel you are disrespecting me when you continue doing the things that I ask you not to do” instead of saying “you are rude" or “you have no manners” etc).

Clarify or repeat yourself as many times as needed (to make sure she is hearing what you are telling her and not just hearing what she wants to hear! She might be listening but not hearing you at all).

Watch your language. Words that usually escalate a conflict are: never, always, unless, can't, don't, should, shouldn't (you know there are typical gestures, postures in our culture and words in Bengali that have this latent power in them).

Words that de-escalate a conflict are: may be, what if, it seems like, sometimes, perhaps, I think, I feel, I wonder, would you consider.

Affirm and acknowledge the position of the other. Children need to be heard, not just seen by their parents. Don't dismiss her points outright without giving her enough reasons.

It is also important to remember that a mother-daughter relationship is a continuously evolving one and lays the foundation for future relationships. Conflict is not always a bad thing and is almost inevitable in any close relationship. Conflicts give us an opportunity to learn from them and a successful resolution of conflict can lead to a better relationship.

Here are few lines from “If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again“ by Diane Loomans:

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.

I personally don't believe in a friendly relationship between a parent and a child until the child becomes a grown up adult and both can communicate at adult level. Discipline, affection, care, guidance, protection, free communication are the basic tasks of parenting. A parent-child relationship is also a hierarchical relationship (unlike friendship) that requires setting rules, teaching how to be responsible and showing the consequence of a bad choice. Believe in your parental authority in dealing with defiance. Children learn about limits by testing first with their parents. Don't forget that it is sometimes hard to keep pace with a growing child and as parents we can only try our best.

Dr. Nighat Ara, Psychiatrist, Counsellor and Therapist

I just realised today…
…that I'm now officially a teenager. That means I can no longer climb into Mom's bed at night when I'm afraid of what my own dark closet holds. I can no longer wear a frilly dress or let Dad give me a hug in public. After all what would my friends say?

I just realised today…
…that I'm now officially a teenager. That means I can no longer make excuses and get away with them. I can no longer use the shield of being a child. After all what would my parents say?

I just realised today…
…that being “down” means having a cellphone, an Ipod and being Internet savvy. That means that I should have a profile on Facebook, chat online and know where to download my music. I can no longer just hide behind the lens of my film camera or admit to still using a discman. After all what would my friends say?

I just realised today…
…that to get a cellphone, an Ipod or have access to the Internet, I must earn them. That means I can no longer ask and get things without questions. I can no longer throw childish tantrums. After all what would my parents say?

I just realised today…
…that to be mature I need to be in a relationship. That means finally asking out that guy or girl that my friends think I should. I can no longer be the only single at a swanky lounge while others all show off their latest partners. After all what would my friends say?

I just realised today…
…that to be mature means to keep the trust that my parents so blindly have in me. That means I have to abide by the no-dating-in-school rule. I can no longer sneak behind their backs to explore the forbidden. After all what would my parents say?

I just realised today…
…that to be grown-up I need to be a rebel. That means I should dye my hair blue, get a new piercing and break curfews. I can no longer leave a party by the deadline or got out looking…normal. After all what would my friends say?

I just realised today…
…that to be grown-up I need to listen to my parents and not give in to peer pressure. That means I shouldn't break rules just to prove something to my friends. I can no longer act rebellious. After all what would my parents say?

I just realised today…
…that as I keep growing, I am being pulled in two directions. That means I have to satisfy two sets of people: my friends, my parents. I can no longer just be myself. I have to be the model child to satisfy my parents. I have to be the rule-breaking rebel to satisfy my friends. I am angry because my parents won't extend my curfew and afraid that my friends will discover that I still kiss my parents goodnight.

I just realised today that I all I want is to be left alone to deal with growing up. I just realised today…

By Tahiat-e-Mahboob


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