The Spectrum of Conversation

Right now we are dealing with some behavioral challenges. It’s somewhat helpful for us to call this a “negative developmental phase”. Somewhat helpful because it helps us to remember that this, too, shall pass. It would be easy in some moments to throw up my hands and abandon E. to herself. It is hard work to model calm, loving gentleness under normal circumstances; even harder when I am running on 3 of my four cylinders sleep-wise.

So when something comes to me like an idea-gift I have to write it down because chances are I’ll need to read it again in a few days because I’ll be tired and I’ll forget.

So here it is. Today’s revelation that is helping guide my daughter through this negative phase:

In any given conversation, there are constantly varying levels of passion on both sides.

Now, everyone has their own lexicon and might define marks along the spectrum a little differently, but this is what I came up with on the fly, starting with the least passionate and becoming increasingly heated:

Conversation, Discussion, Disagreement, Argument, Fight.

Here’s how that plays out in our family…we did some role-playing and here’s what we came up with:


“I think we should paint the room blue.”

“I think we should paint the room red.”


“I think blue would be better for the following reasons.”

“I get that, but I think red would be better for these other reasons.”


“I hear your reasons, but I still think my reasons are better and I still like blue.”

“I know you like blue and I know why but I really think red would be better.”


“I like blue better and I will not really listen to anything about red.”

“I like red better and I will not really listen to anything about blue.”


“I don’t like red and I don’t like your shoes!”

“I don’t like blue and your hair is ugly!”

One way this is useful in our interaction is that I can check in with E. and say, “We are talking about this and I thought we could discuss it, but you are full on fighting right now.”

Another way it’s useful is to check in with myself and figure out where on the spectrum I am at opportune moments. If I am broadsided by a three year old who comes out swinging (so to speak) when I ask her to use the toilet, it’s easy to match her at the angry end of the spectrum. But even though it’s hard, it’s worth it to pull myself back for a minute and leave space for a “gentle answer” which “turns away wrath”.


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