Scrolling through my social media feed I see angry people daily.
Threats to “unfriend me if you believe in…”, “I will delete you if you…”, or “I just lost 20 friends because of my last post” and bright red emojis that look like they’re going to pop litter comments on every thread.
But friends, aren’t we as a society better than this?
I want my children and their friends to understand that it is absolutely, a-ok to agree to disagree or to accept another’s differences without it being a personal attack.
The world I want my kids to grow up in understands tolerance and diversity and if we cannot learn to model it to them now, this epidemic of only surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals is only going to get worse. What makes us individuals and unique is that we don’t all think the same and we come from a variety of backgrounds & circumstances.
Because the truth is, life isn’t one-size fits all.
It’s even the simple stuff.
So sit down and think about social media, news reports, politics, and (ahem) blogs… they all have opinions and assertions of the best way to live, the best products to buy, and even the food you “should” be eating or the way you need to parent.
In fact, before our family packed up and shipped out to a new home 1,700 miles away, I thought I knew the best stroller, what kind of food my family should be eating, and even how we should be spending our money.
But, boy was I in for a rude awakening.
My beloved stroller wasn’t suitable for big city life, our food budget didn’t cut it in Boston, and our money just didn’t go as far in general.
When I see “mommy wars” and the pointing fingers of shame to parents who weren’t “present” or were “too present” and grown men trying to force their opinion right down the proverbial throat of their social media peer, I fear that we are a people who value having an opinion, but don’t want to allow others to have one different than our own.
Raising kids to politely & respectfully have a dissenting opinion before they need to stand up for themselves.
First and foremost, it’s important that we recognize our role as parents in the lives of our children.
They watch us.
They see what we do.
And they imitate our actions.
So if we can model this in our own arguments and disagreements with spouses, with our children, or with whomever else, it’s easier to help guide our kids to learn to do the same.
In arguments, teach your kids to convey emotions through self.
It’s easy to point a finger, to blame, to project feelings away from one’s self. But ultimately instead of breaking down barriers, it builds a wall between two people brick by brick with every “well you did…” and “You just don’t understand.”
It creates an argument instead of facilitating a conversation. When we speak with our children, we can show them our feelings, our opinions, and our role in a situation. Likewise, when it involves our kids, we can ask them to express their emotions by asking probing questions.
- How does it make you feel when _____?
- What do you think is the right decision?
- Why do you feel so strongly about ____?
- How did you reach that conclusion?
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Help them learn to acknowledge the other person’s stance.
Even in formal debate and essay writing, it is considered a more powerful argument when one concedes a point. If you think back to your high school thesis statements, you’ll remember seeing things like “While the Industrial Revolution brought many great advancements into the world, it didn’t come without its downsides including pollution and poor working conditions”.
I am not asking you to have your toddler, 8-year-old, or even teen to come to you with a thesis statement for arguing. However, it’s a great way to approach how to view someone else’s opinion with an open mind.
When we look at the whole picture and address our children’s concerns and then tell them why we have chosen to discipline or act a certain way, they also learn that when working through disagreements with friends (or maybe even teachers), it doesn’t have to be 100% black and white.
And that it’s ok to take a stand on an opinion even while acknowledging the opposing viewpoint.
Train them to still be a listening ear.
If we can model for our children that we listen and don’t just shut down or become authoritarian, we can teach our children to approach difficult situations with more grace.
Instead of “stop talking”, “shut up”, “you’re wrong”, or just “no”, our kids learn that even if they still get in trouble or a decision they have made is trumped by a parent, they still get to voice their opinion.
Likewise, we can teach them to not cut someone off in an argument, to weigh all sides before making a decision, and to validate a person’s right to an opinion if they are not in agreement.
Read more on how negotiating with your kids can actually teach important life lessons.
What every kid needs to learn about respecting someone else’s opinion before they enter the real world
We forget that what makes us unique is that we don’t all think the same.
If we teach our children to disagree with grace we can empower them in adulthood.
Some of the most important disagreements of our lives will be with the most influential people in our lives.
Parents and close friends.
A teacher or professor.
Our bosses or those we network with.
They are all relationships that matter and are important.
And most likely ideas and opinion will clash with each of them at some point. And I hope my own daughters will know how to handle themselves emotionally when that time comes.
Losing friends usually hurts worse than losing an argument.
Few opinions are so paramount in our lives that it’s worth walking away from relationships that have taken years to build. And few are so important that we sacrifice the jobs and grades that significantly impact our lives and well-being.
I pray that my children will stand up for themselves, that they will hold strong to their convictions, and that they will not be easily swayed. But my hope is that they can learn to respectfully disagree with others versus what’s worth fighting for before they put friendships and jobs on the line.
Your convictions are important and you never have to give in because someone “says so”.
There is a time and a place to walk away from disempowering people, lousy work, and unhealthy situations.
And I believe that knowing how to disagree can better prepare my children to recognize the situations that are black and white.
Have rough days? We all have them when raising kids.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!