In Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, And Bad Attitudes, authors Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller identify a ‘network factor’: ways that families form networks of relationships and how this network affects behaviors. A marriage starts with two relationships: him toward her and her toward him. When a child is born, the relationships get more complex. Adding one child means four more relationships: mom to child, child to mom, dad to child, child to dad. Each relationship is different, but together they form a network. Each new child brings multiples of new relationships.
This network creates habits that are hard to spot, much less understand. For example, younger brother may respond calmly to a chastisement from dad, but throw a fit when scolded by mom. Why? Perhaps a past habit formed between mom and child has set the stage for a poor response.
The authors suggest parents study their network factor, then suggest these five ways to use it to improve family dynamics:
1. Ask different questions. Instead of asking “Who’s at fault here?” or “Who deserves the punishment?” try asking “Who will be the mature one and fix the problem?” The questions you ask direct your child’s thinking.
2. Change yourself first. If you see your reactions causing wrong response patterns in your child, consider how you might change your reactions. We all recognize that our kids “push our buttons.” A button indicates a pattern, and you’re part of the pattern. Your kids have learned how to produce a particular response in you. Is there one ‘button’ that comes to mind that you’d like to change?
3. Use triangles wisely. When three people form a pattern, there’s a triangle at work. When a child asks mom for some privilege and receives a ‘no’ answer, then goes to dad to try again, the child is creating a triangle. The authors suggest “If you’re going to get ‘triangled’ in, then enter as a counselor, not as a critic.” As a counselor, don’t take a direct role but instead give suggestions to the one trying to bring you into the triangle.
4. Identify nonverbal communication. Non-verbal blows hurt just as much as careless words. First identify the nonverbal cues that are part of the patterns in your family. Then develop a plan for addressing them: that plan will usually include pointing out those nonverbal cues when they occur, discussing how they affect you, and suggesting more honoring and more direct (verbal) responses.
5. Use parent-child evaluation meetings. If you identify a problem, schedule a meeting in advance, and let your child know you want him to meet with you. Meet with each child alone. Share three positive things you see in your child, then share the concern. We all respond to correction better when we feel valued. After developing a plan with the child, agree to get back together to evaluate in a few days.
Families develop patterns of behavior, and simply seeing those patterns clearly can help. Use the network factor to build more honoring relationships in your home.
Dr. Forrest E. Watson