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March 25, 2015

Ask the Expert: The Good News and Bad News About Blowing It

darondickens-300“I totally lost it with my 8-year-old daughter. We both ended up in our rooms crying our eyes out, and I don’t know where to go from here. Have I ruined our relationship for good? What do I do now?” (Kelly)

I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that these kinds of outbursts do wound. Sometimes those wounds take time to heal. Sometimes those wounds make getting closer a little more difficult because of the fear of additional pain — much like someone coming close to your bad sunburn. Our natural reaction is to flinch and pull away even if we don’t consciously believe the other person intends to hurt us.

But there is good news as well. Our bodies and minds and spirits are designed to heal and grow. What’s more is that we actually grow through struggle. Although the interaction you wrote about was far from ideal, it presents you with an incredible opportunity to grow. It gives you an opportunity to shift from a head-to-head battle against each other to a shoulder-to-shoulder unified effort towards a mutually beneficial goal: connection.

In that moment you both experienced empathy. You shared the sadness of the situation. You shared the displeasure of what had just taken place. You shared the reality that you both mess up. Most promising is that you shared a desire for things to be different.

Imagine what might have happened if, in that moment, you had turned to your daughter and said, “I hate that we are both sad right now. When I yelled at you, it was wrong. I try very hard, but sometimes I mess up. That probably happens to you, too. Are there times when you try very hard, and still mess up? I love you, and don’t like when we fight. I could use your help. What do you think we could do to keep from this happening again?”

How might that have shifted the conversation from being a battle between you two to working together towards a common goal? Sure, she may have responded by asking you to just let her do whatever it is she wants to do. Still, that would be an opportunity to have a shoulder-to-shoulder discussion about why you are uncomfortable with that. Although it could be tempting to see it as an opportunity for you to tell her why her choice was wrong or stupid or immature and take an authoritative position, these will not lead to the outcome you are looking for.

This is an opportunity for you to listen, to empathize with her emotion, and to work together to find alternative ways to get what you both want. It is about shifting away from a battle of wills and shifting towards ways you both can live out a family standard while maintaining relational connection. She may surprise you with her ideas despite only being eight years old.

As I mentioned earlier, the wounds of this interaction may make your relationship difficult for a while, but it is far from over. The emotion you described only occurs because you both care. People who do not care do not cry in their room. They disengage. They become cold and distant. Leaning in and being authentic with your daughter about your desire for her help may just achieve the common goal of connection.

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