In their book Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Bad Attitudes, authors Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller identify how families form networks of relationships and how this network affects behaviors. They call this the 'network factor.' Before a couple has kids, relationships are simple. When a child enters the picture, the relationships get more complex: Dad toward Mom, Dad toward the child, Mom toward Dad, Mom toward the child, the child toward Mom, and the child toward Dad. Just three people create six relationships. Just imagine all the relationships within the Duggar family!
Turansky and Miller encourage parents to study their network of relationships to understand family patterns of behavior and how to change the unhealthy ones. The authors suggest five ways to use the network factor:
1. Ask different questions. Instead of asking "Who's at fault here?" or "Who deserves the punishment?" try asking "Who will be the mature one and fix the problem?" The questions you ask your kids direct their thinking about themselves and others.
2. Change yourself first. If your reactions cause wrong response patterns in your child, consider how you might change your reactions. We all recognize that our kids "push our buttons." A button indicates a pattern, and you're part of the pattern. Your kids have learned how to produce a particular response in you. What might you do first to change the pattern?
3. Use triangles wisely. When three people form a pattern, there's a triangle at work. When a child asks mom for some privilege and receives a 'no' answer, then goes to dad to try again, the child is creating a triangle. The authors give some sound advice: "If you're going to get 'triangled' in, then enter as a counselor, not as a critic." As a counselor, you don't take a direct role but you give suggestions to the one trying to bring you into the triangle.
4. Identify nonverbal communication. Non-verbal blows can hurt just as much as careless words. First identify the nonverbal cues that are part of the patterns in your family. Then develop a three part plan for addressing them: point out those nonverbal cues when they occur, discuss how they affect you, and suggest more honoring and more direct (verbal) responses.
5. Use parent-child evaluation meetings. If you identify a problem, schedule a meeting in advance, and let your child know you want them to meet with you then. Meet with each child alone. Share not only the negative patterns you want to work on, but also three positive things you see in your child. We all respond to correction better when we feel valued, and sharing positive things helps do that for your child. After developing a plan with the child, agree to get back together to evaluate in a few days.
Families develop patterns of behavior, and simply seeing those patterns clearly can help. Use the network factor to build more honoring relationships in your home.