Why understanding Dialectics is critical for effective parenting? Part 2

DBT-C, English, Supersensers / By Francheska Perepletchikova

Dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion. It summarizes the main principles by which change occurs. There are three laws of dialectics: 1) quantity into quality, 2) everything contains its own opposite, and 3) negation of the negation. This discussion will focus on the 2nd and 3rd Laws.

The “Everything Contains Its Own Opposite” Law stipulates that everything has a self-contradictory character. Simply put, it means that everything has two sides. They are not the same or equal but complimentary, as they diametrically oppose each other. Such as day/night, life/death, good/bad, white/black, ying/yang, man/woman, etc. For example, attending school is difficult and boring, as staying home is usually more fun AND, at the same time, it gives us knowledge necessary to effectively deal with life challenges.

The same thing can be 1) valid from one perspective and not the other (e.g., piercing may be seen as ‘cool’ and esthetically pleasing from a teen’s perspective and not from the parent’s perspective); 2) valid in a short-term and not long-term (e.g., self-harm is effective in reducing emotional arousal in the moment and is destructive for the future wellbeing); 3) valid for one goal and not valid for another (e.g., forcing friends to play a preferred game may give a child a sense of control and may damage relationships; 4) valid in the past and not present (e.g., a pacifier is appropriate for soothing a 6 months old child but not for a 6 year old); 5) valid under one set of circumstances and invalid under another set (e.g., physical aggression is justified for self-defense, when physical wellbeing is threatened and is not justified when a person is simply blocked from attaining a desired goal); and so forth.

Unfortunately, the information field in which we exist programs us to see the world as one-sided, where things are mutually exclusive. This is just an illusion. In reality, things are always parallel. Opposites co-exist at the same time. This is the paradox, which is the only norm of our existence. An example of such paradox from our previous discussion is my advice to parents to devote a lot of time and effort practicing adaptive skills with their children AND not expect their children to use these skills.

Another example of how this applies to effective parenting – we can accept and not approve at the same time. The main mechanism of acceptance is validation, which means “I understand the causes of your response, even though I do not agree with you doing this.” Parents usually have difficulty understanding and practicing validation because we all have sustained the programing for a one-sided world view. Parents even report being afraid to validate, as they think that when they say to their child “I get why your screamed at me” they somehow communicate approval and allow their child to be verbally aggressive in the future. This is an example of treating things as mutually exclusive – “if I do not approve, I cannot accept.” Indeed, we only need to accept when we do not approve. If we approve, we need to reinforce, not validate. And we need to validate undesirable responses to set a foundation for change. This is the main dialectic of a therapeutic process – the balance between acceptance and change.

Effectiveness requires maintaining dialectical balance, where one side is stable, and another side is flexible. Stability and flexibility are complementary. If everything is either stable or flexible, then we are being one-sided. We need to learn to practice dialectical  “both-and” as opposed to the one-sided “either-or.” Effective parenting is a constant balancing act between 1) the flexible side of – “I am collecting information from multiple sources to set rules, including my child’s perspective, and I change rules, when new information is presented”; and 2) the stable side – “I love you unconditionally, I accept everything that you do and I practice the principle of “no wiggle room”.  Unconditional love refers to consistently demonstrating and communicating to our children that they are loved just because they exist, with no conditions or requirements. Acceptance of everything that children do, by definition, includes all their undesirable responses, and the mechanism underlying acceptance is validation. In the practice of “no wiggle room,” rules are followed precisely as designed and agreed upon, unless new information requires to change a rule. For example, “I understand that you want to play on your iPad 5 more minutes and your time is up.” “No wiggle room” is the opposite of accommodation.

The ”Negation of the Negation” Law of dialectics stipulates that change is a resolution of the contradictions between opposites. The tension between opposing sides creates something new – a synthesis, which comes into existence with its own opposite side and the struggle begins again, creating a new synthesis. What previously was is negated by what is now, thus, negation of the negation. 

One-sidedness gets us stuck. Indeed, we need two legs to walk, as with one leg we can only stand or fall. Parents are frequently locked in dialectical dilemmas of one-sided approaches to raising children. Because opposites attract, quite frequently parents naturally represent opposing tendencies. For example, one parent may be more naturally permissive, while the other more naturally restrictive. Unfortunately, without understanding and practicing the principles of dialectics, the tension between sides does not create a synthesis but instead results in parents getting more and more extreme in their positions to balance each other out. For example, the more accommodating and inconsistent one parent is, the more controlling and stricter the other parent becomes and the other way around. Instead, they need to move to a healthy synthesis in which their tendencies complement each other, instead of simply opposing. Such as having clear and realistic rules AND being willing to negotiate and allow reasonable levels of freedom to promote healthy development.

Any effective decision making necessitates the balancing act of taking multiple perspectives into account, looking outside the box, considering what has been left out and synthesizing information to formulate Wise Mind solutions. Effective problem solving, based on dialectical principles, is a topic of our next discussion.


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