Transactions are a part of life. People typically associate transactions with business, but some conversations and interactions within our personal lives can be characterized as “transactions,” too. Sometimes, having interactions of this nature is necessary. You might be helping out a neighbor who offers to support you in return. Alternatively, you may be coordinating with your siblings to assist an elderly relative and determining which arrangement is fair.
Parents can also engage in “transacting” with their children. This style of communication from parents to their children is fairly common, but it isn’t the healthiest way to guide or discipline them. Let’s explore what “transacting” looks like, why it can be harmful, and how you can handle these interactions instead.
Examples of Parent/Child “Transactions”
What does it mean to engage in a “transacting” conversation with your child? Basically, it’s a conversation centered around the idea that you’ll reward or punish them if they do exactly as they tell you.
Typically, the parent is asking for something to be done immediately, with no questions asked on the child’s part. For example, a parent might say, “If you can’t be quiet at the grocery store, I’m going to take away your toy.” Alternatively, they might say, “If you’ll calm down and be quiet, I’ll buy you a treat.”
What Does “Transacting” Teach Your Child?
Why does this mode of interaction introduce problems for parents and children alike? Transacting teaches your child that they owe you something, and in exchange, they’ll get rewarded, or face negative consequences.
However, it also teaches them that they should brush their own feelings aside when they’re upset, and that changing their behavior will result in an immediate benefit or drawback. These are not necessarily helpful life lessons. Every parent will sometimes resort to “transactions” in a desperate situation or moment of exhaustion, but it shouldn’t be a consistent practice.
Explaining the “Why” Behind Your Rules
When you approach your child with a transaction, you don’t get the opportunity to explain why you’re making a particular request. Your child might listen to what you tell them, yet they won’t fully understand why they’re expected to act a certain way or follow a specific rule.
Exploring Your Child’s Feelings
“Transacting” can be especially frustrating for younger children. This is because they often don’t know how to express their big, complex emotions. When they’re acting out, it’s not because they want to irritate their parents or hurt their feelings; they simply lack the communication and reasoning skills to fully express what’s wrong.
When their parent responds to their sadness or anger with a transaction, the child can become confused about how to handle these emotions when they inevitably come up again in the future. They may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings, and they need opportunities to learn these valuable emotional regulation skills.
Shifting to a Gentler Communication Style
How can you move away from the habit of “transacting” when it comes to asking your child to follow instructions? Patience is key. It’s not always easy, and there may be times when you simply have to ask your child to stop engaging in a particular behavior immediately.
However, when you have the chance, take a moment to slow down and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Find out what’s bothering them, and see if you can calm them down without making instant requests. People of all ages need a little grace, especially kids!