Part one of this post is here.
If I had to make a Top 10 list of parenting skills, the ability to step back and shut up would rank somewhere near the top. Not that I've perfected the skill, of course. But when I do remember to practice it, it does tend to promote sanity, peace, the ability to retain some semblance of self control, and better relationships with my kids.
Learning to shut up is hard. It's hard because we want to be right, we want to have the last word, and on top of that our inner 8-year old imagines we're engaged in a long-ago argument with a sibling.
Another reason it hard to bite our tongues is because we've spent years instructing and correcting and being a frontal-lobe enhancement for our kids: we're in the habit of teaching them. And although we continue to instruct as kids get older, we need to do it in a different way. I think this is because two things happen around the time they are nine or ten.
The first is that -- for most things -- kids already know right from wrong. So when they do wrong we're not dealing with ignorance any more, but with something else. Like what, you ask? Oh, insecurity. Impulsivity. Immaturity. An emerging desire for independence. Self indulgence. Memory blips. Failure to apply a general concept to a specific situation. Hormones. And, of course, rationalization. (Even we adults are good at that. For a fun and interesting read, try Dan Ariely's The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.)
I don't know about you, but I get annoyed when someone tells me something obvious, especially when they imply I ought to know it but was too stupid to remember. Kids feel the same way. They especially feel this way once they're old enough to realize they know everything and you know nothing. And this is true even when they've just demonstrated, clearly and completely, that they have not integrated the information they know into their behavior.
The second thing that happens when kids get toward tweenage is that we need to shift toward getting them to think through problems on their own. One of the best skills we can give our kids is the ability to analyze a situation and think before they act. But it's a learned skill, not one that they grow into automatically.
How do you teach without lectures? By asking more questions and making fewer statements. We don't need to ask the obvious question ("What were you thinking?") but to give kids prompts that will get them thinking. What will happen if you...? How do you think she felt? Is there a difference between what you want to do and what you should do? Why does what he says matter to you?
You may recall that the first item on my list of 15 Things I Know about Parenting a Difficult Child is this: You can't always make it better, but you can always make it worse. I'm able to make things worse pretty quickly if I let myself misdiagnose the cause of conflicts with my kids as their inability to listen, rather than my inability to hold my tongue. Both are contributing causes, of course. But I'm the one responsible for what comes out of my mouth. It makes sense to start there.