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Growing Families

Pulling Together

Misty D.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 4 July-August 2001, p. 148-149

Picture this: one horse pulls 5,000 pounds, another horse pulls 4,000 pounds. You would expect that together they would pull 9,000 pounds. Instead, together they can pull 12,000 pounds! That is what collaboration or teamwork does.

How do you get teamwork to happen in a family? First it takes respect or acceptance for each other. This doesn't mean everyone has to agree with each other all the time. It does mean being respectful of the other person's right to feel or be different. Recognizing that we all differ in our basic temperament, how we perceive our world and react to things, can help us accept each other, and work together more efficiently.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, in her book, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles, explains that understanding our own temperament helps us understand the feelings that our child's temperament generates. For instance, highly persistent adults are likely to be committed to their goals! When they start a project, they may need to finish it. Unfortunately, life with children doesn't often allow us much uninterrupted time! Planning in advance to make sure your most important needs are met helps you stay more even-tempered with your children. It may help to plan your day so that you can finish at least one thing. Conversely, adults who are low in persistence may be more flexible and able to stop a task in progress and easily change to something else. Yet, if a mother doesn't realize that her child is high in persistence, she may be furious when he can't stop playing or working on something immediately to come for lunch, but instead has a tantrum.

Paying attention to temperament (both yours and your child's) can help you plan ahead to forestall power struggles. If your child is highly persistent, make sure to give lots of transition time before making a change, asking, "What do you need to complete before you're ready to stop?" If there isn't time for that to happen, you can explain, "It's frustrating! I know you'd like to (do whatever). There isn't time right now. You're a good problem solver; where could you stop now and how could you finish it later?" Depending on the age of your child, you may need to give some suggestions and elicit some from him and then together work it out.

This doesn't mean that you are totally permissive and let your child get away with everything. You are the parent and, holding firm to your family's values and expectations, need to help your child learn to control his impulses. When you set a limit, do it in a way that lets your child know you understand how has feeling and want to help him work it out. "It's upsetting to have to stop before you're ready or because someone tells you no. However, you may not hit! What could you do instead of hitting? How could you tell me in a respectful way that you're mad about stopping?"

Understanding, respecting, and accepting our child's as well as our own temperaments and feelings will help family members work together harmoniously, pulling together as a team.

Reprinted from the Winter 2000 issue of Grapevine, the Area Leaders' Letter for LLL of Northern California and Hawaii.

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