Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: On Problem-Solving and Choosing Battles and the Virtue of Independence

Having more than one kid, I am constantly, constantly involved in helping them resolve conflicts. Constantly. In a way, this is an advantage of having more than one kid--they all get TONS of practice. And in a way, it's a disadvantage because it's exhausting. As in to-the-very-core-of-my-being exhausting.

Still, practicing can't help but improve skills (I think), so overall this is a good thing. And since I also need help practicing because I'm learning, too, this constant (constant!) problem-solving is a Good Thing. (I think.)

This post I wrote in the summer of 2009 (Morgan was 4 and Ryan was 7 at the time) has a nice, lengthy example of the process we use to resolve conflicts. Sometimes the process is quick, under a minute or two. But sometimes it is interminable. Here's but a snippet of what happened that day:

I broke into his word stream with: "I don't want to know about TKD right now. It doesn't matter what kind of hitting in the air you did near her. What matters is that your actions made her worry she'd get hurt. That's a threat [he understands that word] and that's not kind and it's not a way to solve a problem." 
Ryan: "But! But! But! I don't want her in the corner!!!!" 
Me: "Well, what's a better way to tell her that?" 
R: "Um, 'Morgan, don't go in the corner?' " 
Me: "That would be a way to tell her. What would you do next time if she didn't respond to that the way you want her to? What would you do then?" 
R: "Um, ask you for help?" 
Me: "Yes! Will you start hitting at her, making her worry she might get hit?" 
R: "No." 
Me: "Okay, good. I'm very glad to know that you will not be hitting at her any more."

Now that all happened when Sean was just a baby. These days, he is all up in the problems, if not the actual cause of the problems.

In case you didn't know--with each additional kid, many of the parenting challenges increase exponentially (or if not exponentially, it's definitely a "whole is greater than the sum of the parts" kind of thing). Let me 'splain. With one kid you get a whole lot of parenting challenge in one cute little kid package, yes?

Add a second kid, and now you have the individual challenges that come with each kid (health, personality, developmental, etc.) and then you ALSO get the new challenge of managing the interaction/dynamic/relationship between Kid #1 and Kid #2. And if there's a sibling jealousy/rivalry/potty regression/punish Mommy thing going on (at least in the first couple of years), well then that makes things a little livelier, doesn't it?

Add a third kid, and you have three individual challenges PLUS the interaction/dynamic/relationship between Kid #1 and Kid #2, PLUS the interaction/dynamic/relationship between Kid #2 and Kid #3, PLUS the interaction/dynamic/relationship between Kid #1 and Kid #3, PLUS the group dynamic (aka, when they all team up together to oppose the parental units).

Which might explain quite a bit about why we're stopping at three.


Today, I was helping manage a problem between the older two and Sean, who is at that ornery age of THREE. His favorite new pastime is arguing. Actually, he's majoring in Contradiction. He is NO to your YES, ~A to your A, DUCK SEASON to your RABBIT SEASON. Etc.

It is relatively easy for me, a grown up adult with other goals and priorities and a certain level of boredom with ridiculous arguments, to say to Sean "Oh, you say 'no?' Alrighty then." And move on with my life.

SOME PEOPLE who live in this house, however, have yet to cultivate such a devil-may-care attitude toward such pointless bickering, and are apparently willing to fight to the death (or the pain) to prove that  YES IS YES and A IS A and it really is, gosh darn it, Rabbit Season after all.

The incident that prompted this post happened only a few hours ago, and I've already forgotten what it was the older two were insisting on arguing with Sean about. An indication of how many you-know-whats I don't give as well as an indication of how often this occurs. So, for the purposes of this little demonstration, I'll use A and ~A as stand-ins for the Disagreement of the Moment.

R & M: "A!"

S: "NO! ~A!"

Some context: everyone in the whole world can see that A is true. It's so obvious that the older kids are absolutely flabbergasted that anyone would actually dare to contradict it.

Me: "I agree with you two, I think it's A."

R & M: [triumphant gloating]

S: "I said NO NO NO! ~A ~A ~A!!!!"

Now comes the point in the argument contradiction when one or both of the older kids becomes indignant and resentful of Sean's refusal to acknowledge reality.

R & M: "But! But! But Sean, you're WRONG! You're wrong wrong wrong. Mom said." Etc.

Sean is both furious and enjoying himself immensely, as he has been provided with yet another opportunity to practice his problem-solving contradiction skills:


And this is where a valuable (I hope) lesson about the virtue of independence is helpful.

Me: "We can all see that A is A. And we can all know that A will not change into ~A just because Sean wants it, right? And remember how he just loves to argue with everything these days?

R & M: [offer general agreement]

Me: "Are you enjoying this use of your time? [No.] So what you need to think about is whether this really worth giving your time and energy to. It's okay to let him be wrong and just know that you're right. You've got a couple of choices here: You can think about how you are right inside your head, or you can argue and argue with him without changing his mind, and you know what? Either choice you make will not change the facts. You will still be right and he will still be wrong. Maybe one day he'll change his mind on the matter--in fact, he probably will--but that's really not your concern and it's ultimately up to him. In the meantime, you can just make up your own mind and know what you know, and move on with your life."

I didn't deliver that whole thing in one big speech (Morgan would never have lasted through so many words). But those are all of the things I ended up saying to them. And that is a lesson in how to be independent in the virtuous sense, how to use your own mind to decide things and not let it bother you that others think differently (or wrongly).

Part of this, too, is letting go of some of the responsibility for getting others to come around to your line of thinking. Ultimately, what I think about things is what matters, even if every other dolt idiot person in the world disagrees with me. I have to think what I think, and then go on and live my life despite the fact that I've been unsuccessful in changing someone else's mind.

What, if anything, Sean got out of hearing me discuss this with the other kids, I have no clue. But I'm hoping that the others picked up something valuable from it.

Maybe if they learn this idea and as well as some coping skills while young, they won't waste tons of time later on trying to correct Wrong People on the Internet.

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