When to Stop the Conversation

Last  week I posted about listening to your child and trying to find times that your child is available to talk.  Many people commented on the value of just showing up to be available to talk.  It’s a challenge to us busy, goal-oriented parents.  In fact, last week I meant to write about this week’s topic but I realized that finding time to talk is really most important.

So, now I turn to the other. It often comes up when parents talk to me about problems with their children’s behavior.  The problem usually appears when you have set a limit.  Perhaps you have said that your middle school child cannot go to a rock concert with friends because you think the scene is too grown up for him.  There might be drugs and drinking. It is important to set a limit like this in the context of a discussion in which your child gets to explain why he wants to attend the concert and gets to tell you what he knows about the event.  You also should explain what you know and what your concerns are.  You can even empathize about the way it makes him feel to have to tell his friends he cannot go.  If it’s your judgment that the scene is inappropriate, you need to go with it.

The conversations that I advise against are the ones in which you find yourself explaining your position over and over to questions of, “But, why, Dad?”  There comes a time when you might say, “I have told you many times, and I am not going to discuss this anymore.”  Many parents are troubled by this and tell me that they feel rude when they stop the conversation.  They have heard that parents should listen to their children, but they haven’t understood that listening to badgering and manipulation is not helpful.

Remember that your children are learning about how to interact with authority from you.  They are clumsy about it.  If you have given in in the past when you were badgered by your child (and I think most of us have), you will find that when you begin to end the conversation, you child might act dramatically wounded.  You may wish that your child would just stop without your having to stop the conversation.  Remember, you child is learning.  If you are consistent in this, most children begin to get it.

This comes up with children of all ages around different issues.  When you can calmly refuse to engage in an interaction in which you feel badgered and manipulated, you teach your child a lesson in respectful interaction.


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Photo Credit:  Tambaku the Jaguar on Flickr


6 Responses to “When to Stop the Conversation”
  1. Gretchen Baker-Smith says:

    It would have been so helpful if you could have appeared out of the walls of my house a decade ago with this wisdom! It is so hard in the moment to not take it personally, not feel you have to respond to every question, and not feel that if you don’t have the last word that you’ve “lost” the battle. Really, it’s about having enough confidence to feel that even though you don’t totally know what you’re doing as a parent that you still know more than your children do — to remember that they are testing, learning, and growing….

  2. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Gretchen,
    Thanks so much for your response. You’re right. This stuff is so hard to do, much easier to write about! I like the idea of remembering that as a parent, you still know more than your children do. Teens can really get their parents turned around. It’s helpful to try to remember that they are learning this interpersonal stuff.

  3. Carolyn,

    I think that all parents need a reminder that we have both the right and the responsibility to set clear boundaries for our children. They will encounter boundaries and rules for the rest of their lives, at school, at work, etc. It’s important to have well stated expectations, to explain choices, but then stop. When we are clear about our boundaries, and don’t get sucked into the “but why” game, we give them good skills.

    Thanks for a great reminder.


  4. Hi Carolyn, Such a nice reminder for all of us that as much as we want to be close to our children and be good listeners they need us to be firm and clear about our limits. Even in our busy goal oriented life the former is so much more appealing but they need both. I like to remind myself when I am feeling like the bad guy that it is so important from them to learn to respect the word no and respect me when I use it. Best, Allison

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Ann,
    I really like the way you put it–the right and the responsibility. Helpful to think of it as teaching, as well as taking care of yourself. Thanks for your comment.

  6. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. I love the way people flesh out my thoughts. It is about respect for oneself–which is how we teach our children to respect us.