Teaching our children and ourselves to know what we really want in family negotiations


If you think about it, every time that you speak, you are engaged in a human performance event. You have some sort of intention for your words when they leave your mouth, and you want the impact of your words to line up with your intention as much as possible. As a couple’s counselor, many arguments come down to each party vehemently defending their intentions as positive. I take this as a good sign because the alternative is for one or both parties to have negative intentions. When appropriate, I validate their good intentions, and I then ask if their actions had the intended impact. Often they didn’t. Once that is acknowledged we can get to solving the real problem by choosing actions that are more likely to have the intended effect.

The same principle also applies to disputes between parents and children. My 6 year old has been having tantrums lately. It only happens in our home. Her behavior is stellar in all other environments. At home, sometimes she gets very mad and can’t calm down. When this happens my intention is to take actions that calm her down. I try to say things calm her down. It doesn’t work. Nothing satisfies her. She gets angrier. Recently my wife and I have discussed this problem and we decided to just send her to her room. We don’t say anything about when she is coming out. We don’t talk.  She demands to be let out. She whines. She tries to strike a deal. We simply gesture for her to return to her room. Initially, we can hear the need in her voice and observe it in her behavior. Camp defines need as a self-induced and most often false conceptual position of survival; a dangerous emotional position showing great fear and weakness. Rather than respond to her needy communications, we have decided to wait until she starts to know what she wants. According to Camp, want is a self-induced emotional position with no hints of fear of survival; a strong and most critical position for an effective person to be in. Our parental mission is to teach her how to be an effective person.

This morning, I sent her to her room and waited for her to move from need to want. She tried several times to convince me to let her out, but I only let her out when she said these words in a low voice at a slow pace, “ Daddy, I want to come out of my room now.” I didn’t coach her to say want. I didn’t tell her it was the ‘magic word’. I must admit it can feel like magic when you develop the patience to want rather than need. My wife and I discovered that wanting her to calm down, and not needing her to calm down, was really the key to our starting to have success in effectively influencing her. It allowed us to follow a rule of the Camp system – no talking. Not meant to be taken literally, of course, but as much as possible, do not talk and instead listen, observe and learn about your adversary. When you better understand them, you have a better chance that your impact on them will line up with your intentions.

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