Nov 19, 2009

"Can We Use All Three Methods?"

We occasionally encounter a parent who accepts the validity and believes in the effectiveness of the no-lose approach, yet is not willing to give up the two win-lose approaches.

"Won't a good parent use a judicious mixture of all three methods, depending on the nature of the problem? asked a father in one of my classes.

While understandable in view of some parents' fear of giving up all of their power over their children, this point of view is not tenable. As it is not possible "to be a little bit pregnant," it is not possible to be a little bit democratic in parent-child conflicts. In the first place, most parents who want to use a combination of all three methods really mean that they want to reserve the right to use Method I for the truly critical conflicts. Translated into simple language their attitude is: "On matters that are not too important to the children I will let them have a voice in the decision, but I will reserve the right to decide my way on issues that are very critical."

Our experiences seeing parents try this mixed approach is that it simply does not work. Children, once given a taste of how good it feels to resolve conflicts without losing, resent it when parents reverts back to Method I. Or they may lose all interest in entering into Method III on unimportant problems because they feel so resentful of losing on the more important problems.

A further outcome of the "judicious mixture" approach is that kids acquire a distrust of their parent when Method III is tried, because they have learned that when the chips are down and the parents has strong feeling on a problem he will end up winning anyway. So, why should they enter into problem-solving? Anytime it gets to be a real conflict, they know Dad is going to use his power to win anyway.

Some parents muddle through by occasionally using Method I for problems where the kids do not have strong feelings--the less critical problems--but Method III should always be used when a conflict is critical, involving strong feelings and convictions on the parent of the kids. Perhaps it is a principle in all human relationships that when one doesn't care much about the outcome of a conflict, one may be wiling to give in to another's power; but when one has a real stake in the outcome one wants to make sure to have a voice in the decision-making.

*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. book

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