Jump to content
  • ENA

    Why Do We Develop Our Parenting Styles?

    Excerpted from
    How to Negotiate With Kids: Even When You Think You Shouldn't: 7 Essential Skills to End Conflict and Bring More Joy into Your Family
    By Scott Brown

    Very few of us think of ourselves as either tough nuts or pushovers, but a surprising number of us behave this way when we find ourselves in arguments with our kids. Why do we become hard bargainers, accommodators, and avoiders?

    I decided to look back at what we know about negotiators who adopt these styles and see if the pressures that motivate them might also influence parents. Do hard-bargaining parents, for example, demonstrate a greater focus on their own goals and interests than on those of their kids? In 1998 two psychologists at the University of Toronto, Paul Hastings and Joan Grusec, studied the thoughts and goals of parents during conflicts. They sorted the goals into three categories: pursuing the parent's desires and needs, pursuing the child's desires and wishes, and pursuing the needs of the relationship.

    Sure enough, when parents focused on their own goals during conflict-enforcing obedience, for example-they were likely to be controlling and demanding and less likely to talk or compromise. When they were most focused on goals related to their child's needs-thinking about making their children happy or helping them learn a lesson-they behaved in a helpful, accepting, and less controlling manner. When parents focused most on the long-term relationship-strengthening family bonds and building trust - they were most likely to negotiate, balancing their own needs with those of their children.

    None of this should be too surprising. What was surprising, at least to me, was the low number of parents who focused on long-term, relationship-centered goals when dealing with differences. Among the 139 parents in the study, less than 14 percent reported relationship-centered goals as most important, while 50 percent reported parent-centered goals and 36 percent cited child-centered goals as most important. These results may help explain parental behavior. When we parents focus on the pressures and stresses of immediate demands, we may behave in a coercive and harsh manner. When we concentrate on the wishes and desires of our children, we become reasonable, accommodating, and permissive. When we can keep fresh in our minds the long-term goals for our relationships - building a sense of trust, fairness, and teamwork-we are more apt to negotiate in a collaborative manner.

    One other aspect of this study caught my eye. When the researchers asked parents about public conflicts with their children, in a grocery store, for example, the parents said that their own goals-compliance and obedience-were foremost in their minds. These parents, perhaps embarrassed by the conflict or worried about the public disturbance, were more likely than parents in the privacy of their homes to react with demanding and punitive behavior.

    Common sense and our own experience, of course, tell us much the same: When personal emotions overwhelm us or when immediate problems demand our attention, we are less likely to handle conflicts in a collaborative and nurturing manner. When time is short, as it often is, we become controlling and demanding.

    Time constraints and an emphasis on our own goals during conflict don't entirely explain, though, why so many parents are hard bargainers. As we will see in Chapter 4, paying attention to our children's interests and the way they see a conflict will help us change our hard-bargaining approach, but it's not enough. Besides, although we may not understand or empathize with our kids as well as we might, especially during arguments, most of us care deeply both about their interests and about our relationships with them. So why do we lean toward one of the two extreme conflict styles and rely so little on collaborative negotiation, which might after all help us balance our needs with theirs?

    Again, what we know about negotiators seems true for parents. First, many parents face the same sort of dilemma that all negotiators face in conflict. If we parents act too soft, we'll lose control of the household and our kids won't learn clear limits. On the other hand, if we act too tough, we'll lose our children's affections and hurt our relationships. The way we sec our choices influences the way we deal with conflict. If we see our choice as between the parent s way and the child's way-between control and chaos-a hard bargainer style makes sense. If we see a choice between preserving the relationship and winning the issue at hand, we shall almost always choose accommodation. Depending on whether we more strongly fear loss of control or loss of affection, we'll lean toward one or the other of the extremes.

    Second, conflict between parents and kids is especially stressful. As you'll see in the next chapter, this stress plays havoc with our emotions and our ability to deal well with conflict. Our reaction to stress, the fight or flight response, drives us toward hard or soft strategies and away from more rational negotiation.

    Third, as noted above, collaborative negotiation takes more time than the other approaches, at least in the short run. (In the long run, however, negotiation saves time as kids learn to solve more problems and comply more consistently with rules and agreements.) The time pressures of daily life, piled on top of the stress of conflict, lead many of us to choose quick fixes. Hard-bargaining parents get their way. Accommodating parents get short-term-peace. As you'll see, however, both pay a price. Neither approach builds the self-discipline or problem-solving skills we want for our children or the relationships we want for our family.

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    There are no comments to display.

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

  • Create New...