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Justifying Your Child's Behavior
3 ways to settle disputes when kids are in the middle.

When you and your spouse argue, remember to listen before you begin to defend your position.

Why do I… feel my husband has to go against everything I say? My husband is 63, I'm 43 and my daughter is 17. We've been married 3 years. My daughter is a homebody—doesn’t drink or smoke and is a very good person. She gets good grades, does her own laundry, picks up her room and helps with chores when asked. She's not mouthy or disrespectful.

The problem is that my husband will take any little thing about her and blow it so out of proportion that he and I fight about it for hours. Not because I disagree with him, but because he gets so angry with her, then at me because he says I "always justify what she does" when I try to explain the situation. Are there steps I can take with him to correct this behavior?

Spouses often disagree about how to raise their children and manage their behavior. When disagreements turn into continual arguments, you are giving your children negative examples of parenting, caring relationships and communications.

Couples often focus on their children as the source of problems when their own relationship isn’t going well. Typically, one parent feels a child is unruly and disrespectful, while the other defends that child’s behavior. One parent might think the other is too angry, making too much of a small matter or just not understanding how boys (or girls) behave at that age. The underlying issues may include dissatisfaction in the parental relationship, lack of effective listening and communicating skills, or frustration about a child who is spoiled, rebellious or just taking advantage of her parents’ lack of unity.

But when the parents engage in yelling and blaming each other, they give their children bad examples of a lack of respect for one’s partner and ineffective styles of communicating. Arguing rather than listening creates an opponent rather than a partner. You are not hearing your spouse’s concerns so he or she shouts louder or argues in self-defense. The more you try to convince your spouse that they are "thick-headed and old-fashion" about child-rearing, the more they will feel as if you’re siding with the child rather than presenting a united front against a common "enemy." This is when your spouse will most likely argue that you are undermining his parental authority and his relationship with the child.

While it might seem to you that your spouse is the one in the wrong, you're the one who is maintaining the conflict. You're arguing rather than listening and not using effective communication skills, which include actively listening and demonstrating that you've heard what the other person said and is feeling.

What To Do:
Listen to your spouse’s concerns and show that you have heard (if not understood) his or her point of view––even if it seems illogical to you. Remember, you are not agreeing with them, only demonstrating that you’ve listened and can at least empathize with a different perspective and experience.

* Stop justifying your child’s behavior to your spouse. Demonstrate that you’ve heard their concern: "You’re really worried about how Amy’s been treating you. Yes, she can be really mean when she’s upset about something at school."

* Stop trying to convince your spouse that he or she shouldn’t feel that way—You’re not listening. This tactic will only make your spouse feel frustrated, isolated and understandably angry. Try: "Of course that’s upsetting. I see what you mean."

* Finally, stop telling your spouse he or she is wrong and should change. Try: "How can we establish some consistency in how we respond to Amy? Let’s figure out how to be more united and effective."

Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of "Mental Toughness & Productivity Engineering" CDs at www.hypnosisnetwork.com. He is the author of the books and CDs for "Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage" [McGraw-Hill, 2006] & "The Now Habit" [Putnam, 2007], available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com. You can find Dr. Fiore's "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com and more at his blog www.neilfiore.blogspot.com.

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