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How Not to Battle Your Child this Back to School Season: Part 1 - Why we Battle

When we talk to parents about getting their kids back to school, many fear that battles may ensue in the preparation and execution of the schedule and other logistical changes that must occur for everyone to do their part to make the year a successful one.

In our recent book, HOME: Strategies for Making Home a Success During and After Treatment, we explore common “traps” parents fall into when parenting young people that are applicable even if your child has never been in treatment. Here we think about “traps” in relation to back to school.

One of the biggest traps that parents typically fall into is the “why” question. How many times has your child asked a “why” question; ie “why do I need to do my homework?”, “why can’t I ride with my friend to school? etc.”

The “why” question typically appears in the midst of a power struggle or conflict involving parental expectations. We usually respond to the “why” question with a reasoned, logical answer assuming that we are in dialogue with another logical, rational mind. We hope that our child will respond with some variation of “I really understand and appreciate your thinking and perspective on this issue and I absolutely agree”. Except that is rarely a childs response. Instead, we typically experience an impassioned rebuttal finding all of the flaws in our reasoning, telling us how “stupid” and invalid our perspective is as we try to answer the “why” question.

Like in the many traps that we have identified that children set for their parents, the truth is that in the midst of the trap that leads to the power struggle, your child is unwilling or even unable to see what your perspective or reasoning is regardless of how solid, or thoughtful you as the parent believes it is. Instead it is about trying to achieve an outcome that they desire by engaging you in the power struggle with the hopes that you will give them an answer that will justify their position or provide them the answer they are looking for. Often, in this trap, like many, there is a great level of adolescent normalcy here. Of course they are going to try to see the answer that justifies their perspective or gives them their desirable result in the situation.

The secret here, like in many traps, is to expect and accept that they happen in parent child relationships and it’s our response as parents that will determine if the trap that was set is one we address and walk around with grace or the one we get tangled and caught up in.

The parenting skill within the secret is deciding how you want to participate in the power struggle and knowing that sharing all the reasons to underscore your position is not the answer. Think about how much air time you want to give to it? Decide the value of giving or not giving answers to the “why”. Use tools that allow for reflective listening, empathy and questions of curiosity all while holding firm to the parenting position you want to hold.

Additionally, we can hear and even find truth to our child’s frustrations about the situation and it doesn’t have to change our parenting expectation. This is where the timeless advice of "pick and choose your battle" comes to you in a new form of "pick and choose what you want to respond to".

When our kids express their sometimes negative feelings about having to go back to school, or how they will never use the math they have to take in the real world or how they dislike almost every teacher and how school is just "stupid", you as a parent have the power to decide what part of the conversation you want to participate in and how you want to respond. Oftentimes, when appropriate, agreeing with them can take away the battle. "Your right, summer has been so awesome, it's hard to see you have to go back to school so soon" (and for some of you, remember to make sure you are fully turned around when you do the small fist pump of school being back in session). It's okay to even agree that they might be right, they most likely are not going to use all the math they learn now in everyday life and there isn't much control that you as their parent have over what they are expected to learn when it comes to the math credits the state requires.

A great way to not battle with your teen about school is to decide as a parent when to stay out of the verbal battle by recognizing when you can just agree and stay away from the desire to try and change their opinion. This adult desire we have, to change their opinion or perspective, to have them see it a different way, often is what invites the power struggle you are attempting to avoid.

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Solutions Parenting Support, LLC is a nationally recognized parent support and transition program assisting parents and families with straightforward and compassionate skills based support prior to, during and after wilderness therapy and/or residential treatment. Solutions is a dynamic team of parent coaches who have had extensive careers as therapists in wilderness therapy or residential treatment before turning their talents towards coaching parents around the globe. The team is family system focused and are licensed professional therapists and/or social workers each with 15-30 years of experience working in wilderness therapy programs, varying levels of residential treatment programming, and transitional support.

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