This month, as I was considering what would be the best use of the letter D for our series, I examined several options. Should we discuss Diagnosis or maybe cover the basics of what Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is? Perhaps we should discuss the art of the discussion? While each of these would be worthwhile topics, I kept coming back to this concept of Discourse over Discord. What do these terms mean and how are they related? Most importantly, could these terms be clearly discussed in a counseling session without confusion? So, I set out this month to start a conversation to answer these questions and to begin reviewing my humble perspective on parenting and how to converse with your child instead of fighting with them.
What are Discourse and Discord?
In this context, we will define discourse as the verbal exchange of ideas, or in short, a conversation where both parties are given an opportunity to share their viewpoint. This concept may seem beyond that of a child, and it is true that we may need to tailor the level of conversation to your own child’s capability. However, at its core, we are talking about allowing our child space in the conversation to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Conversely, discord is very much the opposite. It represents conflict and disagreement, a place where we have failed to achieve discourse and are left with an overall lack of harmony in the relationship. How many times have you found yourself dealing with what seemed to be a simple conversation or directive, but instead watched as it devolved into a screaming match with your child? How did you feel as you watched the wheels come off and your child spiraled emotionally out of control? As a parent myself, I can tell you that typically I start from an emotional position of entitlement. I am the parent, you are the child right?? At least that’s how it was a generation ago. While I don’t prescribe to this particular school of thought, there is a level of entitlement that we have about maintaining the upper hand in an argument with our children, after all, we can always fall back on the old adage, we know best. After my initial outrage at being denied the right entitled to me as a parent, I then move into hopelessness and uncertainty. Should I have allowed the conversation to devolve and should I have allowed my own worst self to rear her ugly head when I am supposed to be the adult in the equation? Afterall, I know best, so shouldn’t I have known how to manage my own anger and allowed an open discussion instead of letting that anger get the better of me?
How Can We Prevent Discord with Discourse?
I have two simple words here: Open Communication. If you have read my previous blogs you may feel like I am starting to sound like a broken record here, but your child has a voice and should be allowed to hold space in your conversation. When we approach our children as little adults in training, we can reframe our perspectives about what their role in a conversation is and place our parental entitlement up on a shelf. I think that the old approach of children should be seen and not heard was misguided and it honestly does both you and your child a disservice. We are tasked to help our children develop into successful, functioning members of our society and part of that development comes from learning how to have discourse with their peers. Consider this, you wouldn’t toss your child into the deep end before giving them proper swimming lessons, would you? Now, imagine you child as an adolescent, never being given the practice at discourse, being tossed into the conversational deep end and feeling unprepared and inadequate. We never want our children to experience these self-defeating emotions and we have the power to protect them by giving them the practice throughout their childhood, one conversation at a time.
In addition to preparing our children for a successful future, we are also supporting their emotional health and development and our own peace of mind too. I have worked with countless children who are brought into my office with reports of behavioral concerns, or difficulty with regulation, or spiraling fights where the child “just won’t listen”. I have found that at the core of most of these issues is a frustration about being misunderstood and feeling like they are not being heard. I strongly believe from personal and professional experience that many spiraling meltdowns are caused by ineffective communication where the child is not given the opportunity to hold space in the conversation which often leaves them feeling powerless, overwhelmed by frustration and ultimately, outside of their window of tolerance.
As parents we hold the awesome responsibility of teaching our children right from wrong, respect of authority and appreciation of others’ boundaries, however, I feel that if we approach the task not with the iron fist of dominance and punitive action, but instead through open discourse and support, we give our children the opportunity to grow while feeling as if they have a voice and their opinions matter. Let’s support curiosity, answer inquiries and listen to instead of talking over our children, because I believe if we do, you’ll be surprised to see just how capable their little minds already are.
B'well therapist Amber Gray works with children & parents to help promote both sides of the healthy communication coin: speaking and listening.