Re-scripting Negative Parent-Child Interactions


Sometimes we parents make stupid pronouncements. For example, one morning I was teaching a parenting class and a mother told about a blow-up with her daughter the previous evening. She had made a special meal for her daughter to eat while she studied. Apparently the daughter was not in a good mood. When Mom delivered the meal, the daughter scorned: “I don’t want to eat that junk!” Mother was instantly indignant. “Is that the gratitude I get for trying to be helpful? Maybe you can be grounded for a week!” And she stomped back to the kitchen feeling both hurt and guilty. She knew that her daughter had behaved badly. But she also knew that she had over-reacted.

The mother asked me what she should do. She did not want to make threats and then fail to deliver. She knew that could undermine her credibility. She is right. One of the greatest problems in parenting is that parents give directives that they do not enforce. Children learn to ignore our directives until we become angry. Only then do they know that we’re serious.

Yet the best way to teach the daughter to repent is to be a good model of repenting. I suggested that the mother approach her daughter when she got home from school. When they are relaxed, she could say: “I want to talk with you about something. Last night I was very hurt when I prepared a treat that I thought you would enjoy and you seemed unappreciative. I reacted in ways that aren’t right. I’m sorry. I wonder if we could start over again. I would like to recreate our interaction last night.”

I asked if the mother thought that approach would work. The mother heaved a sigh of relief. “I have felt so bad about my reaction. If I say what you suggested, I know that my daughter will immediately apologize for her thoughtless reaction. I can apologize for my over-reaction. Our relationship will be healed.”

I call that re-scripting. We can go back to bad times and re-write them when we are peaceful. While I believe that reasonable rules should be consistently and promptly enforced, I also believe that unreasonable pronouncements should be revised with humility and kindness.

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  • Reply Morris May 18, 2008 at 10:55 pm


    Excellent comments and thoughts and practice on re-scripting. I have found myself in that mothers shoes and have walked many miles in them. However as I looked back over my own reactions and responses, I believe I missed the real teaching moments. I could have taught them what I believe the Savior would do, “Come unto me”. When my kids were upset as described above, what I really believe was they had a problem I didn’t know about and wanted help of some sort. Either practical advice on fixing it (yep I a guy) or just someone to listen to their concerns (something I have had to learn and practice). Mother knows best. Too often I wanted unrighteous dominion to let them know they had injured me and should apologize. After all I had done nothing, except to ignore the root cause, their suffering. When someone attacks me, the human nature of fight or flight still kicks in but now, over time, the question of “What is really making this person do this” is what I hope kicks in before I say something to offend them. Going back and admitting mistakes is good. Our children learn that we are human too, but do we want to teach them just that, or to show the way? I am not even close to perfect; only trying to get better. I have learned from experience of talking with my older ones that time dims the memory and we remember the best. And I want it to be that “Dad would at least listen to me and talk”.
    Thanks again.

    • Reply admin May 19, 2008 at 9:03 pm

      Morris–Excellent point! I try to remind myself that any kind of “acting out” is a message to us that the actor is distressed. But this is especially hard (maybe even impossible) when we lead with our pride. And pride seems to be the natural state for the natural man.

      Thank you for sharing your insight!


  • Reply Vic & Ce Isbell May 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Hi Wally
    We are voices from the long ago BYU past! Do you even remember Victor and Celia? Vic is from Richfield, Ut. and I think I remember floating down the Green River with a bunch from our BYU Ward! If you remember us, drop us a note!

    Vic & Ce Isbell
    Las Vegas, NV

  • Reply christian parenting August 6, 2009 at 8:40 am

    The stories are really helpful in dealing with such situations with your teens. I’m sure other parents would feel the same way.

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