Catherine Durkin Robinson: Hey, parents, let your kids work it out

“Work it out.”

When was the last time you said that to a child?

Growing up, I heard it all the time. It was my mom’s go-to response for any host of problems:

“Michele put tuna fish under my pillow!”

“Michael keeps looking at me!”

She would sigh and tell me and my siblings to work it out. If I complained about friends?

“Cathy threw a book at me in the hallway!”

The response was almost always the same. If I had a real problem, something that went beyond the realm of workable issues like when a boy made fun of my flat chest all through junior high, she’d tell me to ignore it.

Ignore it.

My boys started high school this year and advice such as “work it out” or “ignore it” are a thing of the past, like part time jobs and Jolt cola. Nowadays, kids hear new phrases like “restraining orders” and “lawyer fees.”

Adults are taking over and solving the problems themselves. They call the principal and schedule interventions “before everything gets out of hand.” Kids are losing opportunities to problem solve, think quickly, and pair the right curse words with sarcasm.

On top of all this, adults aren’t so good at working things out – getting their “help” sometimes is a lose/lose for everyone. Grownups need serious assistance coming together with other grownups and turning their collective frown upside down.

Thankfully, I have plenty of experience in this realm. Another plus? I’ve never been slapped with a restraining order. So when strife occurs with a loved one:

Ask what’s wrong. Show an interest. If someone doesn’t ask, someone doesn’t care.

Listen. Don’t jump in with your own list of complaints. You’re not allowed to use someone else’s fragile moment to pile on. Save it for another conversation.

Say you’re sorry. Seriously, what’s with all the aversion to this statement? If someone you love is hurt, and you’re not sorry, then there’s something wrong with you. This phrase doesn’t mean you are admitting guilt in a court of law, so relax. You’re just showing empathy. Like a human being. With, you know, feelings.

Tell the truth. If you are the person with the problem and someone asks you what’s wrong, clear your throat and come clean. Don’t be like your least favorite preteen girl and say, “Nothing.” I already lack the patience of saints and sinners, so let’s get a move on. We can see you grinding your teeth and staring at the ceiling, you know. If I care enough to ask, let it spill.

Don’t use words like “never” and “always.” Very few people “never” or “always” do anything. Make it difficult for her to blow you off or for him to think it’s just about your period.

Say “I feel…” and “I think that…” rather than “You suck because…” The opposition is already defensive. Let’s not make it worse.

And when you get it all out of your system, and they apologize, decide one of two things. Are you going to:

  1. forgive and move on, or
  2. end the whole thing?

Don’t act like the apology is all good and then hold on to a grudge for the foreseeable future (read: longer than five minutes.) If she’s a good person, and didn’t mean to make you mad, and won’t make the same mistake again, then build a bridge and get over it.

She’ll return the favor when you mess up.

And you will. Mess up.

See? All good now, right? Doesn’t peace feel better than strife?

Ooops, I forgot something. It’s vital you do all this in person or maybe during a long talk on the phone.

Now wait, I’m not going all Grandpa: “Things were better without all these contraptions!” I’m not suggesting we return to smoke signals in order to communicate.

But things can go wrong with electronic conversations.

I’ve heard horror stories about long-lasting relationships ending entirely via email. Not once did either party pick up the phone to talk or meet in person.

Enduring friendships ending with reply buttons and mouse clicks.

How insane is that?

Meet in person and let your eyes tell most of the story. Tone of voice matters. Hand gestures, sad smiles and a warm embrace sometimes mean the difference between make-up or break-up. I’m convinced most troubles between people wouldn’t exist if we could just sit down and really talk with each other.

If meeting in person is impossible, well then, Snapchats exist for this very reason. It can’t be all about the gays hooking up.

Besides, the pain that comes from a broken relationship isn’t virtual. It’s real.

And the experience you gain in your personal life will help your kids, too, when you inevitably stick your nose in their business and attempt to solve all their problems.

Let’s model the behavior we seek in our children, and that will help them learn the art of what my Nana called “fighting nice.”

It shouldn’t be a dying art. We want the next generation to be better than us at the whole cursing thing.

So go on and work it out. And then let your kids.

Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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