Communication Skills

Triangulation Part 3: Why Kids Fight.

Children fight for many reasons.  One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).

Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen.  My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room.  Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom.  Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.

Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help.  Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to  finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways.  Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously.  I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement.  They need the adult contact.

Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do.  Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children.  Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.

A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always.  Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings.  Some older siblings are passive.  Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR.  The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention  by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she  can get the parent’s attention by being a bully.  The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children,  believe they are not able to get along.

Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings.  HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.

When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same. 

Choose to be a part of the triangle:

  • Remove from both children what they are fighting over, e.g. a game, activity or toy.
  • Help the children negotiate and brainstorm with each other. Make sure each child has a turn to speak.
  • Ignore the fighting and suggest that you all do an activity together – work or play.

Decline to be a part of the triangle:

  • Send both children to their rooms or to different parts of the home for a specified time.
  • Send both children outside. Children’s play usually improves when they are sent outside.
  • Express your faith in your children that they can work things out for themselves.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.

Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation.  Some will work in some situations, but not in all.  Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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Triangulation Part 1: Understanding Family Dynamics

Gladys hear the familiar voices.  They were getting louder and Louder.  This was nothing new. It happened all the time.  “I wonder what it is about this time”, she asked herself.  She wandered towards the sounds making sure she wasn’t making any noise. Then she heard another familiar voice – her brother’s. As usual he was coming to his mother defense.  He’d been doing this for as long as she could remember.  She watched as they all argued.  There was no point in her doing anything because they never listened to her. She slipped away back to her room.  They didn’t even notice she had been there.

What happened is triangulation.

When there is tension between two family members, a third family member is often drawn into the issue. When one child gets involved, the other children often feel “off the hook”, and they remain passive or just ignore their parents.  The function of triangulation is to diffuse the tension between the two who are stressed with each other.  The downside is that the dynamics between family members can become unhealthy for all members of a family.

In healthy families parents avoid triangulating the children when they are stressed with each other.  They tell their child that the issue is between them, and they will take care of it. Parents would remove themselves from the children’s earshot, or they would tell the children to go to their rooms or go outside and stay out of it. They would work it out themselves if possible. By the parents keeping their differences between themselves, the family dynamic remains healthy. The parents are a unit and the children know it.

Sometimes triangulation happens between parent and child and the other parent is drawn in.

Example:

Arlie and her son were arguing about his playing rugby.  She didn’t want him to play because she was afraid he’d get injured.  Stan intervened on behalf of his son and all three argued. Mom felt unsupported and angry at dad. The issue shifted from playing rugby to who was going to have their way.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Stan lets his wife and son have their conversation. Later, when they are alone, Stan discusses the issue with his wife. The issue remains about playing rugby and mom’s concerns about her son getting injured. It does not become about the dynamics of their relationship with each other.

When is it NOT triangulation?

Family members can have a discussion about an issue without triangulation if the discussion remains about the topic and does not become about the dynamics between them, such as who is right/who is wrong or who is allied with whom.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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Communication Skill 8: Reflective listening

One of the most powerful communication skills is Mirroring, also called Reflective Listening. As a mirror reflects back one’s image, the receiver verbally reflects back to the sender words that let the sender know for sure that the message sent was the message received.

Mirroring is difficult to learn but well worth the time and effort. It pays off big time in developing solid connections between partners. For that matter, it works with people in general. Often when couples I work with learn this skill, one or both will report back how mirroring was effective in a situation at work, with one of their children or with a friend.

Reflecting Listening is NOT repeating the message word for word. That is called parroting. Parroting is useful at times, such as making an appointment or date.

Mirroring is NOT repeating or even remembering all the details of what was said. People think that just because they can repeat back everything that was said means they were listening. Hearing the words is not enough. Hearing the message the words are conveying, and saying that message back to the sender, is mirroring.

Mirroring is NOT saying “I understand.” Or “I get it.” The receiver may or may not understand, but the sender has no way to gauge whether they do or not. If the receiver actually does not understand, things could get worse later. “But I thought you understood!”

Mirroring involves the receiver putting his or her own viewpoint aside and letting the sender know in words that they see or know the sender’s point of view.

The receiver puts into words what the sender:

  • thinks and believes
  • feels (emotions)
  • has done, has not done, is doing or wants to do (behaviors)
  • wants and needs
  • values
  • wants you to understand

Example:

  • Stan: I expected you back from your trip yesterday morning. I had made plans for us. I was really looking forward to going out together. I can’t believe you would not let me know you’d been delayed.
  • Cindy: (instead of getting defensive she reflective listens to Stan) You’re really disappointed that I didn’t get back yesterday. You missed me.
  • Stan: (relieved) I sure did. I’m glad your back.
  • Cindy: I’m sorry I didn’t let you know about the delay. I understand you’re disappointed, and I’m glad to know you missed me.

Stan had not said he was disappointed or that he missed Cindy. Cindy picked his feelings up and mirrored back to Stan how he felt. Even if Stan had actually forgotten that she had told him she would be late, Cindy is better off doing what she did, reflective listening, rather than arguing, defending herself or withdrawing in silence. As a result of Cindy’s reflective listening, what stood out for both of them was the positive connection between them – he missed her and she likes that he missed her.

Couples who are positively emotionally connected to each other have relationships that are strong through the good times and the bad times.

Caution: When mirroring, reflect back only the message sent. Do not add more than was said or try to put your own message into your response. That is, don’t put a spin on your response. That wont work, and it could easily make communication worse. Wait for your turn to say what you want to say.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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