Be Yourself, Save Your Family

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Be Yourself, Save Your Family

Episode 035 · Duration: 00:12:58



Be Yourself, Save Your Family

Are you in control battles with several kids all at the same time? Well, maybe you need to become self-oriented. Today we’re answering a question from Edith of Portland, OR. Edith wants to know:

Be Yourself, Save Your Family

How do you handle multiple different “beasts” or different kids at the same time?

Thanks for your question, Edith. Just to clarify, Edith is not calling her kids “beasts.” In my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle, I explain how parent-teen control battles cause and maintain adolescent behavior problems and I refer to the Control Battle as “The Beast.” So, she isn’t calling her kids beasts. Edith is asking how to deal with a situation where she has control battles with several kids all at the same time.

Yikes, Edith, that sounds exhausting. You are putting a lot of burden on yourself to manage other people’s behavior and manage your kids’ behaviors. As you try to manage them, they resist your efforts. That sounds utterly exhausting and you must be suffering from at least some level of burnout. That’s not good. So I’m going to introduce you to a concept that I think can prove very helpful.

The Difference Between “Other-Person-Oriented” & “Self-Oriented”

When we focus our efforts on changing other people’s behavior, it invariably engenders resistance; I call this being “other-person-oriented.” In your case, Edith, this looks like you trying to get your kids to behave, and they resist those efforts. So what’s the alternative, you ask?

The alternative is to be “self-oriented.” And what, pray tell, is self-oriented? Being self-oriented is operating from a clear sense of who we are, our boundaries, our limits, our expectations, our values, our standards, and our needs. It also means we have respect for other people being able to manage their own behavior – yes, even our children and teenagers. We manage our behavior, they manage their behavior.

Being other-person-oriented:

  • undermines healthy communication
  • undermines healthy child and adolescent development
  • interferes with kids learning how to self-manage
  • invites control battles

Being other-person-oriented can include bribes and rewards, sweet talk, as well as threats and punishments. When we try to manage someone else’s behavior, we are doing their jobs for them and now they don’t have to. It’s actually a form of manipulation.

What It Means To Be Self-Oriented

When I encourage people to be aware of their orientation and to move from being other-person-oriented to self-oriented, they often say, I don’t want to be selfish or self-centered.

I’ll respond by explaining that self-oriented is very different from selfish or self-centered.

Being selfish is:

  • being cheap or ungenerous
  • making sure that you get yours regardless of whether or not others get theirs, or maybe at the expense of others getting theirs

Being self-centered is:

  • lacking empathy
  • being unaware or uncaring of how you make others feel

Edith, I’m certain that you are neither self-centered nor selfish, and probably couldn’t be if you wanted to be.

Self-oriented means:

  • operating with self-awareness as well as awareness of others
  • acknowledging that we can’t change others
  • knowing we only change and control ourselves
  • caring about others, loving others, empathizing with others, and being compassionate, yet we do not control others
  • not being responsible for their behaviors, only how we respond to their behaviors.
  • allowing ourselves to stay centered and not become overly frustrated when others don’t behave the way we hoped
  • being our honest, authentic selves.
Being self-oriented means knowing we only change and control ourselves.Click To Tweet

So the paradox is, that when we overstep our boundaries and try to get our kids to do or not do something, we engender resistance. When we have our boundaries, and communicate love and caring towards others, we engender cooperation.

An Example Of The Differences

Here is what being other-person-oriented might sound like:

“Jeff, get off the computer and get going on your homework.”
“I’m in the middle of a game”
“It’s time to do your homework, get off the computer.”
“I can do my homework later, I don’t have that much.”
“If you don’t get off the computer, I’m taking your computer privileges away.”
“Why are you so mean?”
“I’m not being mean, I’m just trying to help you get good habits for the school year.”
“What’s the point of stopping doing something I’m enjoying to do something I don’t enjoy and can easily do later?”
“GET OFF THE COMPUTER NOW!”
“I hate you.”

Here, Mom is working so hard to get Jeff to do his homework. Hear her pain and frustration? And all Jeff is doing is resisting and feeling unsupported and seeing his mother as unreasonable.

Now let’s look at how Mom sounds when she is self-oriented:

“Jeff, just letting you know that your hour of computer time is up and it’s time to get going on your homework.”
“I don’t have that much homework and I’m in the middle of a game.”
“I hear that sweetheart and I know it’s always hard to stop a game. It takes a lot of self-control. But you know what the rules are and it is your job to follow them. It can’t be my job. So if you want to keep your computer privileges, you need to show that you can handle getting off when your time is up and then do a great job on your homework.”

Within the next couple of minutes, Jeff quietly gets off his computer and starts on his homework.

Same situation, yet in one case, Mom is trying to get her son to change his behavior. In the other case, Mom is letting her son know that it’s his job to change his behavior. Self-oriented Mom is not overly frustrated and can stay empathetic and supportive, and her tone reflects that. The consequences are the same, but in one case, Jeff will see it as Mom controlling him and he’ll resist. In the other case, Jeff will get the information he needs to make a good choice for himself.

How The Change Will Happen

Now, if Jeff is used to being in a control battle, he’s unlikely to respond quickly to the change in Mom from being other-person-oriented to being self-oriented, so he might in fact lose his computer privileges. We have to remember that Control Battles have momentum.

But, if Jeff is used to Mom being self-oriented, he’ll realize Mom’s limits and will respect them. And he’ll grow up to know and respect his own limits as well.

Edith, I encourage you to switch from being other-person-oriented in your home to being self-oriented and thereby putting your kids in charge of their own behavior.

Call a meeting with all your kids and, if you’re married, with your partner as well. Talk about how things need to change from Mom struggling to get everyone to do their jobs, to Mom being in charge of her jobs, and the kids each being in charge of theirs.

In my earlier podcast, Creating Lasting Change In Families, I describe how to set up a positive meeting by acknowledging the problem and acknowledging everyone’s strengths and wonderful qualities. Then, parents take responsibility for the strife. In this case, Edith, you might say that you’ve been trying to get them to do their responsibilities and that is insulting to them since they are completely capable of that.

From now on, you’re going to only do your job of letting them know what the expectations and rules are, and it will be their job to manage their behavior and figure out how to follow the rules.

Make it their job to manage their behavior and figure out how to follow the rules.Click To Tweet

Let them know, of course, that their privileges must be earned and they are earned by being responsible, cooperative and respectful.

For more on setting up this kind of meeting, you can listen to my podcast on How to Create Lasting Change in Families.

So listeners, here is my challenge to all of us: let’s ask ourselves, where am I other-person-oriented and where am I self-oriented? Where am I trying to manipulate others verses being honest and clear with others about what I want or what I think? Let’s all take a step in the direction of being more authentic, yet compassionate, self-oriented selves.

Thanks for tuning in today, listeners, and special thanks to Edith for kicking off this important discussion. Please feel free to come to my website at neildbrown.com and sign up for my weekly newsletter. There’s plenty of helpful stuff there right now and more in the pipeline.

Need more advice? Submit your question here to be answered in a future podcast.

Please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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