DBT Skills for Parents: DEAR MAN for Confrontation and Making Requests

I will admit, I feel like a bit of a fraud discussing this. I am not great at asking for help or confronting someone. But asking for help or having a confrontation happens regularly, especially in parenting. As a parent of young kids, we may not see this every day, but as they get older, modeling appropriate ways to confront a problem and ask for change is crucial to preparing them for success in this world. You are eventually going to need to ask someone to watch your kids, or you will inevitably disagree with one of your care providers and need to discuss the situation. The  DEAR MAN skill, part of the Interpersonal Skills module of DBT therapy, can really come in handy to help you maintain control if confrontation is a source of anxiety.

DEAR MAN is yet another acronym from DBT therapy. It’s an outline of how to frame a request. Here’s the breakdown:

D =Describe the facts
E = Express your emotion
A = Assert your wish
R = Reinforce

M = stay Mindful of your goal
A =Appear Confident
N = Negotiate

Use the DEAR skills when presenting the request, and use the MAN skills after you’ve made the request to keep on track. Notice how you must at the same time stay mindful of your goal but also negotiate. Negotiating can mean asking the other person how they think the problem should be solved, while keeping mindful of what you know your needs are.

Here are two situations I’ve seen come up multiple times, either with myself or friends. Whether you end up using the exact words in your argument or not, just writing out the points can help ease the anxiety of making the request.

Example: Confrontation with care provider

Because it was Thanksgiving recently, the issue of First Nations representation came up a lot in my community, in the form of crafts at daycare/school. It also comes up sometimes from the use of sugar skulls around Halloween, Columbus Day, etc. As someone committed to raising my kids to have a sense of social justice, this is going to be a confrontation I should get used to. Here is an example of how I would work through DEAR part with this scenario.

(D) Recently, my child came home with a craft of a dreamcatcher. (E) This made me and my partner very uncomfortable. We felt sad, and a bit angry, that we couldn’t just be proud of our child’s artwork because it carries racist connotations. (A) We do not want this to happen again. I also want to ensure that my child is being not exposed to inaccurate representations of First Nations peoples in future lessons. (R) BCTF has the goal of eliminating racist materials from schools, and they have lots of information on their website, from lesson plans to advocacy to handbooks.

(M) My goal in the situation here would be twofold. One, to use my position of privilege to confront racism; and two, to ensure the teacher has access to the education he/she needs to combat racism in the future (or to determine that I need to unpack unacknowledged racism at home). (A) To appear confident, I may have a few resources or links printed out or included in an email. I would also make sure my shoulders were square and be mindful of what I was doing with my hands. (N) For negotiation, this is a great time to turn the question on the teacher. “How do you think this should be addressed.” Since all I am asking for is acknowledgement, I would be prepared to bring this up the chain if the teacher resisted.

Example: Asking for Childcare

Using DEAR MAN doesn’t always mean you have a weighted confrontation like the above example. It can also be used for simple requests. I often build up a small ask in my head and avoid it. A quick DEAR MAN makes me realize how small the request is.

Asking for childcare is one of those examples. So here’s an example of requesting with DEAR MAN.

(D) There is an event Thursday from 1 to 3 that I have tickets to. (E) I would really like to go! (A) Would you be able to watch the kiddos? (R) I know the boys always have a good time when you watch them.

(M) The goal, obviously, is to go to the event. (A) To remain assertive, avoid building it up as a big ask. Remember – for a lot of people, kids are fun to watch! They aren’t necessarily worn out from it like you are! (N) If you do need to negotiate, you can offer reciprocal childcare, to pay for lunch or dinner or an activity, etc. If the date isn’t set in stone, if you just need a break, have alternate times in your mind. This is a situation you may get a no due to availability, but negotiate first!

I’ve included a free printable for you to practice your DEAR MANs. If healthy confrontation is something you’re working on in your household, or just for yourself, printing it and framing it is a great idea!

What kinds of confrontations and asks happen in your life? Parents of older children – do you have these kinds of interactions with your kids?

Check out more from our series on DBT Skills for Parents.