My ten-year-old son, Moises, and I have been going around the same mountain for quite some time now. He loves to play video games before doing his school work. The typical afternoon consists of a battle to win.
Recently, I finished reading Crucial Conversations, and it didn’t take long to spot a crucial conversation opportunity. Moises came home from school one day, threw down his backpack, and headed to the Xbox. I usually get on his case right away, and then a battle ensues. However, this time I kept my mouth shut and prepared to go in with a clear mind.
Stakes are high in this conversation because I want Moises to succeed, and my relationship with him matters. We have different opinions on what needs to come first—homework or video games. Our emotions run high every time we confront this issue. I get angry, he gets angry. I become violent, he becomes silent. I voice threats, he voices resistance. I try to get my way, and he tries to put me off. The way I have been handling this is obviously not working. My behavior has been self-defeating. No one wins, and resolution never comes. The same scenario rolls around over and over. It was time to try something new.
I always tell myself the same story: he doesn’t respect me or the rules, he doesn’t care, he doesn’t listen, he’s out of control. This time, I sat in my chair and asked myself a question: What do you want, Meredith? Well, I wanted my son to do his homework and for us to be on the same team.
After pondering a short while, I was able to gain some insight. I recognized that my actions had been making my son feel unsafe, preventing him from adding to the Pool of Shared Meaning. Dialogue was not happening. I came to understand that my Style Under Stress is violence. I press my viewpoint and force meaning into the pool. Consequently, my thoughts are the only ideas swimming around. Upon realizing this, I had compassion for my son and felt terrible. I was able to see that my son’s Style Under Stress is silence. He changes the subject and exits the conversation when he feels threatened. The story I tell myself is not based on facts. Moises feels attacked and consequently does not wish to participate in dialogue. He is a good kid and I am embarrassed to say that I have been taking on the victim role.
I headed into the room and respectfully asked him to do his homework. He got defensive right away. I told him it was not my intention to upset him and that I loved him. He remained quiet and would not look at me. I told him I would be back in five minutes, and I left the room. After five minutes passed, I headed back in. I sat on the bed and began with a Contrasting Statement. I told him that it was not my intention to take away his fun or his video games, that my intention was to see him succeed in school. I asked him if we could talk it out and find a solution that included video games and homework.
I asked him if we could lay out the facts and evaluate them together. I could tell he appreciated the respect I was giving him. After chatting a while, he agreed that his homework needed to get done or he would have to miss recess to catch up. He started adding to the Pool of Shared Meaning. He told me that when he gets home from a long day of school, he needs a break. I heard him out and we came up with a solution. He is now doing homework after dinner and it is working out. I told him we will reevaluate this arrangement in a month to see if it’s continuing to work. I have put it in my calendar to stay accountable to a follow up.
The story I had been telling myself was causing distress for both my son and myself. I’m sure he saw me as a villain. The truth is that my son wants a good relationship with me. Approaching him with heart is restoring our relationship to pre-video-game status. His intention was not to disrespect me; he is a ten-year-old boy that likes video games and dislikes homework. There is nothing weird about that.
No parenting book could have given me what Crucial Conversations has. I plan on becoming good at crucial conversations, so I can improve relationships that are important to me. I am enjoying restored peace with my son. I can tell he is enjoying it, too. I am thankful God put this book in my path. ◼
The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the storyteller and do not reflect the view of VitalSmarts.
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