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Everyone Can Win-Win

Everyone Can Win-Win


There are two types of problems between parents and children. The first is when the child owns the problem and the parent helps resolve it by using "mirror listening." In this case the parent actively listens and reflects back to the child the meaning in his or her words. The parent is on guard not to judge, analyze or resolve the child's problem. In the second case the parent owns the problem and tries to resolve it with "I" statements. "I" statements accurately describe what the parent is experiencing and does not lecture or put-down the child.

Now let us look at what to do when the "relationship" between the parent and child owns the problem. This is a case where the child is doing something that is disturbing to the parent while at the same time the child is committed to continue with what he or she is doing.

For example, Chanie is playing ball in the living room. Mom is concerned that something might get broken so she wants her to stop.

Mom: I am very nervous that if you continue playing ball in the living room something will get broken. And that will be very upsetting to me.

Chanie: But there is nothing else for me to do. It's raining outside and I am bored. You never let me do what I want.

In the above scenario both mother and daughter have a problem. Mother wants Chanie to stop playing ball and Chanie wants to play ball so she won't be bored. In this case the relationship is said to own the problem and thus neither "mirror listening" or "I" messages alone can solve the problem.

Given the volatility of the situation it would be easy for mother to raise her voice and demand, plead or argue with her daughter. This would most certainly lead to a confrontation that would continue to escalate until either mother or Chanie decided to withdraw and save their hostility and frustration for another occasion.

In the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers (1:12) it is written, "Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace..."

Commentators on this Mishnah explain that "loving peace," is the attitude a person should have towards one's friends (family members) and "pursuing peace," means one must make a great effort to secure peace even when it is very humiliating and or difficult.

One option which allows us to avoid confrontation as well as fulfill Hillel's teaching to "love peace and pursue peace" is to negotiate for a "win-win" solution, i.e., a solution that satisfies both claimant's needs and concerns.

In negotiating a solution acceptable to everyone it is essential to use both "mirror listening" and "I" messages in order to avoid blame, accusations and increased polarization of positions. Negotiation of win-win solutions are often not easy and require the utilization of all of one's communication skills and resources.

In our above example Mom wants the ball out of the living room and Chanie wants something interesting to do and does not want to be just "swept aside." A negotiated "win-win" solution might sound something like this. I have indicated the types of messages being sent within brackets:

Mom: I am very nervous that if you continue playing ball in the living room something will get broken. And that will be very upsetting to me. [Mom owning a problem, I message.]

Chanie: But there is nothing else for me to do. It’s raining outside and I am bored. You never let me do what I want. [Chanie owning a problem, you message.]

Mom: It sounds to me like you're looking for something interesting to do and that sometimes your frustrated that you can't always do what you want. [Mirror listening. Mom also corrects Chanie's cognitive distortion by changing the, "never" of her message to "sometimes."]

Chanie: Yeh, I want something interesting to do and playing ball in the living room is interesting. [I message.]

Mom: How about if instead of playing ball you read a book. [Mom suggest a win-win solution.]

Chanie: I've read all the books we have. [I message.]

Mom: How about if you call your friend Sarah and the two of you can go to the library and take-out something interesting to read. [Mom looks for another win-win solution.]

Chanie: That sounds like fun. I'll put the ball away right now. [Accepts Mom's win-win solution and voluntarily puts away the ball].

The benefits of a negotiated "win-win" solution over one imposed by the parents (which is sometimes necessary) are many:

  • The child is motivated to willingly honor the decision because he or she participated in the process.

  • The process of coming to a win-win solution allows for creativity and flexibility and thus leads to unique solutions for unique problems. This is very different from cook-book like solutions frequently found in some popular magazines and books about parenting.

  • Encourages children to think and accept responsibility for problems and their solutions.

  • When it works it eliminates the need for the parent to rely on "power and authority" to impose a solution. Power often creates mistrust, animosity and distance between children and parents.

  • Reduces the chances of blame and increased conflict.

  • Requires less enforcement by parent.

  • Two heads are better than one.

  • Has a positive affect on the parent child relationship. Creates a feeling of co-operation and respect.

There are six steps that help clarify the process of coming to a win-win solution. They may be helpful at times to keep in the back of your mind as you are struggling to come up with a satisfying solution or to actively utilize when a solution seems very difficult to find:

  1. Defining the problem.

  2. Generating possible solutions.

  3. Evaluating the solutions.

  4. Deciding which solution is best.

  5. Determining how to implement the decision.

  6. Assessing how well the solution solved the problem.

Two difficulties inherent with an attempted win-win solution is that it is very time consuming and sometimes an agreeable solution may not be found even after much time and energy has been invested. If it doesn't work there are always other options to try. However, also in the case that no agreeable solution can be found, the child is left with a clear message that a sincere attempt was made to include him or her in the process of finding a solution—even if in the end one has to be imposed. The effort required to find a win-win solution makes the child feel respected, heard and considered. This in turn nourishes a positive and healthy parent/child relationship as well as helping the child maintain and develop a positive self-image.

Rabbi Avrohom Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T., is a registered Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. He has authored 18 educational books and he has a busy counseling practice in Toronto, Canada. For more information visit his personal web site or his Family Services site.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Richard Martin Galesburg, IL via November 24, 2005

parenting I was a child once. From my recollections such tactics did not work on me. Children are naturally argumentitive and non-negotiable. I know becuase i was a child. Children are determined and smarter then we give them credit for. If my parents tried such weirdness on me I would think thier form another planet. And it wouldn't work.
I am not supporting spanking a child nor using authority to get them to do what you want, but i don't support passivity either. Children are generally more aware then one can believe. The best tactics that worked on me was when a rule or discipline was justified and was logical for my level of understanding. The best way, in my opinion, to get children to behave is though communication and some kind of discipline. If you talk to your child like an adult, just maybe you'll get somewhere. This is not full-proof, children are rebellious. A spanking for good cuase can remind the child it isn' a good idea to do that again. It worked on me, it may work for others. Reply

Adam clifton, nj via November 24, 2005

is this article trying to change gender roles Uh, this is odd just in the sense that isn't it usually the boy that likes to play ball in the house and not the girl. Is this like these textbooks that play politics that they now have math problems in which boys play with dolls and girls play with trucks. It is not common for me to see girls playing ball in the house and I just wonder why they picked a girl for this example Reply

Lori goldman st pete, fl via November 18, 2005

who owns the problem Very interesting. This can be applied to all sorts of situations and relationships, not exclusively to parent/child. i am going to try REALLY hard to use this technique. thanks for e-mail. Reply

YH November 17, 2005

Rules How about if Mommy firmly says, "The rule is, 'no ball playing in the house.'"

If rules are clear and enforced by loving parents, there won't be many attempts to break them.

In the example cited, the child is old enough to make phone calls and go somewhere with a friend. She's not a three year old. Sounds like the mother has a history of lousy parenting. Why does she need to explain a rule a child of this age should have "gotten" long ago?

The article promotes modern parenting techniques and frankly, I'm not impressed by how children these days are turning out. Maybe time to go back to the authoritarian though loving approach. Reply

Miss Muslima London, England UK via November 15, 2005

More wisdom from a sage.......i forget which one! Give me a child till the age of 10 and i will give you the adult. Reply

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