Compromises find common ground

When people hear our kids ask, “May I have a compromise?” they tend to look at us a bit funny. They seem completely confused when we respond to our kids as if requesting a compromise is normal. But at our house it is very normal. In fact, it’s a question we hear no less than a dozen times each day.

We began teaching our kids to ask for a compromise when our now five-year old daughter was only two. We figured that she was old enough to have a conversation with us, so she was old enough to begin learning how to compromise.

One thing we have noticed over the years among kids who are adopted or in foster care is that they tend to have control issues — sometimes really BIG control issues. Control issues are common among many kids (and parents), but many adopted and foster kids came from homes or situations where most, if not all, of their world was out of control.  Sometimes these kids had to raise younger siblings, or had to fend for themselves to find their next meal. Sometimes these kids had to use control and manipulation to stay safe, both physically and emotionally.  And some of these kids resorted to control as an attempt to mask their lack of trust and their desire to avoid being hurt, neglected, or abandoned ever again. Control is often an “all or nothing” proposition for these kids, and when they come to our homes they aren’t willing to easily give up the control they worked so hard to get.

In our home we’ve decided we are going to help our kids deal with their control issues not by taking control away from them, but by sharing control with them. Share control with our kids?  Sounds crazy. After all, we are the parents so we need to show them we are in control, right? The thinking goes that they need to respect our authority or everything will devolve into chaos. We followed this way of thinking for awhile, but showing them we were in control was NOT working. As we tried to suddenly take all the control away from them what we got were power struggles and the very chaos we wanted to avoid. We found was a very simple solution…compromise.

The insight that helped us grasp this approach was actually something that Dr. Karyn Purvis said.

If you as a parent share power with your children, you have proven that it’s your power to share.

I get to decide when and how much power to share when I offer my kids a compromise.  And offering compromises doesn’t mean that I lose control or give my kids all of the control.  It means that I teach them how to share power and control and by doing so, teach them an essential skill for healthy relationships.

Here’s how a compromise works at our house:

Me: Son, please go clean your room.
Son: (who is playing a videogame) Sure mom. May I have a compromise?
Me: What’s your compromise?
Son: May I finish this level on my game and then go do it?

Since that is an acceptable middle ground I will typically say sure and let him finish the level before going to clean his room. Of course this is an ideal conversation. Often times it goes more like this:

Me: Son, please go get your room cleaned up.
Son: (who is playing a video game) Ugh!! Can’t I just finish this level first?
Me: Whoa! I don’t like that tone. Are you asking for a compromise?
Son: Yes.
Me: I’m listening.
Son: May I have a compromise?
Me: What’s your compromise?
Son: May I finish this level on my game and then go do it?
Me: Sure! That’s was a good job asking for a compromise!

Learning compromises takes practice for both kids and parents.  As they learn this skill, it’s important to praise your kids when they ask for a compromise correctly (even if you have to prompt them). Still the risk remains that your child might not hold up his end of the deal.  So, as you start using compromises it’s important to remind your kids that if they don’t hold up their end of the compromise, then you won’t be able to offer as many compromises in the future.  Contrary to what I thought would happen, my kids have always held up their end of the compromise.  As a result, we have had far fewer control battles.

Our kids know they have a voice. They know they can ask for a compromise. They know that I can’t always give them or agree to a compromise, but they also know that I will as often as I can.  And the funny thing is that they now are able to accept ‘no’ much better than in the past.

Remember – compromising is NOT about allowing our kids to argue with or debate with us, nor is it about losing our control or giving them all of the control. It is about sharing power – our power.  Compromises give our kids a voice and allow them to RESPECTFULLY ask for what they want and need.  And compromises give us as parents the opportunity to teach our kids an important way of relating that builds trust and connection.

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