Chapter 8 from Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation by Cynthia Klein
In order to guide our children toward success, it’s essential to understand our role in each challenge we encounter with them.
There are essentially three parenting roles that you will choose from depending on whether the parent, parent and child together, or only the child will decide how to solve the problem.
- The Director: Sets rules, guidelines, and expectations
- The Collaborator: Discusses challenges with children and decides on solutions together
- The Supporter/Confidant: Supports children’s own problem-solving process where the child makes the final decision
Unless we clearly understand which parenting role to adopt, we risk being either too lax or too controlling in our children’s lives. Our parenting role is directly connected to who “owns” the problem.
The process I use to determine the appropriate parenting role for each challenge is based on the problem ownership questions developed by Dr. Michael Popkin.
The questions are as follows:
- Who brings up the problem and wants to find a solution to their unmet goals or needs?
- Does the problem involve health, safety, family rules, or values?
- If the problem is for the child to solve, is the problem solvable within reasonable limits for the child’s age and level of maturity?
Here are some further guidelines for each parenting role with common examples for each role. Your role will vary as you evaluate each challenge based on your child’s age, ability, personality, needs, and situational factors.
Many issues exist in more than one parenting role category due to these child-related factors.
Regardless of parenting role, flexibility and open-mindedness are key to interacting successfully with your children.
When you bring up a concern your child doesn’t see as their problem, and it involves health, safety, rules, or values, then the problem directly affects only you.
Until your kids embrace your values, which may not be until adulthood, your parental role is to decide how your concern will be addressed.
Chores often fall into this category unless you have a child who loves to help.
You can choose to either direct what each child does or problem solve together. Either way, you will need to be the rule enforcer to make sure your choose your parental role: director, collaborator, or supporter requests are being met.
Unfortunately, parents often get angry when they have to remind their kids.
When you accept your role as a Director without getting angry, everyone will be happier.
Then, you can direct using effective strategies with warmth, and your kids’ resistance will diminish.
Examples: The parent owns the problem. Issues include refusal to do homework or chores, bad language, hitting, anger, allowance, etc. Also, follow-through of morning and afternoon routines after a plan is developed.
When your child is complaining about a family member, teacher, friend, etc., you need to ask follow-up questions to determine whether the problem is your child’s to solve or a problem to be solved together.
Refer back to question #2 above: Does the problem involve health, safety, rules, or values? If it does, then you probably need to problem solve together by brainstorming ideas and agreeing on the final solution.
The Collaborator does less enforcing than the Director because the child has a vested interest in fixing the problem.
Examples: The parent and child/teen own the problem together. Issues include the child waking up late, fighting with siblings, problems with teachers, bullying, anger (if it’s impacting the family), and problems with homework, dating, money, friends, etc.
If your child is sharing a problem or making a complaint and it doesn’t involve health, safety, rules, or values, then ask yourself question #3 from the list above…
Is my child mature enough to take care of the problem with only my support in finding a solution?
If so, you won’t tell her what to do or take action on her behalf.
Your role will be that of a Supporter who is available to discuss the problem, if requested.
Learning the problem-solving process is crucial to being “hired” as a Supporter by your children.
In the Supporter Role, you are able to discuss the problem with your child until the solution-finding step, as long as you keep in mind that the child makes the final decision without your influence.
If your child doesn’t want to discuss their final decision with you, then you embrace the Confidant Role which is a reduced version of the Supporter Role.
Examples: friendship problems, the child valuing homework and requesting help, decisions about the future, challenges with teachers where the teacher is open to dialogue and the child/teen feels powerful enough to approach the teacher, the child’s own anger (if it is not impacting the family), problems with love and money, etc.
Keep in mind that as your children mature, you will collaborate on issues that you once directed.
With increased maturity on the part of your children, your main role will be that of the Supporter/Confidant.
If you continue to direct your kids in a way that hinders their individuation process, they may become angry with you, rebel against your control, and refuse to do what you want.
This is a warning sign for you to step back, reevaluate who really owns the problem, and choose the correct parental role to maintain a healthy relationship with your kids.
©2017 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking, private parenting coaching sessions, and her book, Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation. She works with parents of 5 – 25 year-old children.