What was our agreement?

On any given day of the week, these four words can be heard spoken around the world by dedicated Positive Discipline parents.  I LOVE making agreements with my kids – we make them for all sorts of things,  It is an opportunity for the expectation to be help as a given, while the kids get to make some choices and distinction about how the expectation is met.

When something isn’t going well and you notice a lot of conflict, whining, nagging, ultimatums, it's time to make an agreement.

Jane Nelsen, the founder of Positive Discipline, and author of many parenting books outlines the four steps for making agreements as:

·      Have a friendly conversation with your child.  Open up the conversation by asking you child how they  are feeling about the situation.  What do they notice.  For example, if homework is a battle every night, get curious and ask your child aobut what they notice happens during this time.  Perpare yourself to hear about your behavior from their perspective and not get hooked on what they say.  Hold the space for them to share.  Listen.

When they finish, share why the situation is a problem for you.  Let them know how much you love them, and that, perhaps, you feel as though (in the homework example) you have made homework your job, instead of theirs.  Let them know you need their help finding a solution to this problem.

·      Brainstorm solutions.  Solutions are related, reasonable, respectful and HELPFUL.  Ask your child what ideas they have about how to solve the problem.  Might sound like, what are your ideas about how homework time could play out?  Remain a non-judgmental listener as you write down their suggestions.  Once they have exhausted their ideas, add a few of your own.  Remain curious and friendly.

·      Pick one solution that both of you can live with and commit to trying it for a week.  Yes, you read that right.  Try it for a week.  Lots of time, the solutions that work the best come after a few visits to this process.  Giving it a week allows both of you the space of knowing that you will be revisiting the agreement if it isn’t ideal.

·      Set up a deadline.  When the agreement is around getting something done, whether it is schoolwork or a chore, get really specific about when it will happen, down to the minute.  This is helpful to the child and to you, as that deadline is written down and can be referred to as you follow through.  Also, set a day and time for when you will sit down and review how the week went.  The conversation is much more likely to happen when we schedule it.

When I teach “Making Agreements” during a parenting class, people are stunned that there is no time spent on consequences if they don’t follow through.  Our culture is so consequence driven that we have forgotten that it's the process of making the agreement that is key to the tool working.

Yes, really, the process of creating an agreement with your child is powerful 

In the spirit of keeping it real, lets focus a bit on the fact that a lot of kids won’t magically keep their agreements without some friendly reminders from us…

“What was our agreement?”  You’ll ask, when you notice your child not doing what they said they would do… 

Following this question, you may hear a variety of responses from your child, including:

“Oh yeah, right…”

“Uh, I forgot…”



And this is the tricky part.  This is when we get to step into our best parenting selves, a moment when we have an opportunity to model and practice self regulation.  Just because we have been through the process of making an agreement and having this great conversation, connection with out kids, doesn’t mean they will be transformed into obedient children who are blissed out because it is time to do homework (or a chore, or go to bed, or turn off the video game…).

Because our kids are normal, they will hope we have forgotten all about that agreement thingy and life can proceed as usual. 

What was our agreement?

This question, spoken with kindness and firmness, is the follow through.  Sometimes we have to say it more than once.  Sometimes we need to get right at eye level and put gentle hands on our child’s shoulders.  This is how we follow through…

“I don’t want to do that!”

“I hate you!!”

Yes, when you are new to making agreements and you lean in and really hold your firmness, your kids could very well respond with anger.  Again, this is your chance to model self regulation.  This is your opportunity to connect with your child while also maintaining dignity and respect for yourself.

AND, you have scheduled a time to revisit this agreement in the near future, something you can share with your child when they push back

“What was our agreement?”  Become a broken record…

But what about when they won't do what they said they would do?

Thank you for asking that question, as most parents do...

There are a bunch of reasons that the kids simply won't do what they have agreed to do.  Here are a few things to get curious about:

*  Your relationship.  Reflect a bit on how you and your child are relating to each other.  Is there a lot of time for connecting, one-on-one time, and child-led play?  Often kids become defiant and hurtful when they are feeling disconnected to you.  Work on getting into your child's world and look for opportunities to connect more.  You will see a difference in their willingness to follow through with agreements.

* Your expectations.  Are you expecting perfection?  Does your child think you are?  Are you doing a lot of criticizing?  Many kids will avoid tasks all together rather than be criticized for doing them wrong.  Get reflective about how you are, or aren't, encouraging your child.  One of my favorite quotes from Rudolf Dreikurs, who's work inspires much of Positive Discipline, says, "A misbehaving child is a discouraged child."  Sometimes all it takes is a shift in the way we show up for our kids to become more cooperative.

* Missing skills.  Lots of time, our kids act out due to lacking skills.  Make sure that you have taken time to train your child in whatever solution they have decided up.  Look for areas where missing skills are keeping them from following through with agreements.  How is their time management?  Do they have the organizational skills needed to clean their room?  How can you parter with them so they can learn and practice the skills they need to be successful?

I have made so many agreements with my kids over the years…  It is a norm in our house and something that they have been a part of since they were little.  It has been such a powerful tool that now, when I am unwilling to commit to discussing something (read: stalling) they will request that we make an agreement about it.

“Mom, can we please make an agreement about texting my friends?”

“Mom, can we please make an agreement about taking my iPod on the bus?”

“Mom, can we please make an agreement about you not having to do any more dishes???”  Ok, that one was made up, but I can dream can’t I?

The point is, the power of making agreements isn’t just about the parents getting what they want, but it is also about the kids getting to share what is important to them and being a part of the process of setting limits, and feeling a sense of power and control over their life.  It is about holding space for our kids to have a voice, to feel valued and for us to be deep listeners.  

The power of this process lives in the relationship that is built and strengthened every time we engage in it.  Trust in the process, friends.  And let me know how it goes!

Smiles,  Casey

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