Communication Do's and Don'ts

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The way we choose to communicate has an enormous impact on our ability to develop and maintain happy, fulfilling relationships. Whether with a child or an adult, our words and our attitude will either contribute to the happiness of a relationship or to it.s demise. Being critical or selfish in our communications will always hurt a relationship. Although all of us slip once in a while, maintaining a healthy relationship demands that at least 90 percent of all communication is positively received.

A husband and wife are at a cross road and the husband thinks they should go left while the wife believes they should turn right. Because the husband is driving, he chooses to turn left. After a couple of miles, the road dead-ends. This is where the wife's reaction is crucial. She can either belittle or judge by saying, "I told you to go right. If you'd only learn to listen to me when I know I'm right we'd be there by now." or "Well now do you believe me?" These types of statements will provoke rebellious or defensive feelings in the husband. He will feel challenged to justify his error and will become even more strong willed. If he feels forced to admit incompetence, his self-esteem may dwindle, as he becomes dependent on the wife to make decisions. She has forced him to become weak and dependent or resentful, rebellious and defiant.

On the other hand if she were supportive and acknowledged that the signs were hard to read or that they can just turn around and start over, without judging, he will feel free to make decisions on his own without feeling rebellious or inadequate. He will feel free to consult with her in the future. Mutual support and independent self-confidence will be strengthened.

The same elements involved in this scenario are a part of our interactions with our children. If we criticize them when they make mistakes or we take credit for "being right all along" our children will feel much as the husband did in the previous scenario. With children however, our critical words are received as truth. Because they haven.t yet developed an ability to understand themselves, they rely on the opinions of those closest to them to discover who they are. Once a negative impression has been accepted by the child as truth undoing the damage requires a great deal of reprogramming.

Avoiding Barriers

Avoid Power struggles:

Power and control has no place in a successful relationship.

  • Reassess the tenuous situation and begin again when you are able to approach the problem Productively
  • Seek win-win solutions. It takes two for a power struggle to flourish
  • Relinquish control: We were given children to teach, lead and to assist them in their journey toward adulthood

Effective stewardship requires no need to control. Control is an attempt to fill the need to feel in control of ones life by controlling others instead of learning self control.

Accentuate what's good:

Every child is basically good. Make an effort to look for the finer qualities they have or the acceptable behaviors, then comment on them using "I messages." When we are in a habit of finding the negative, this will be difficult at first and may require a change of attitude or personal reference regarding a particular child. But the results are miraculous.

Be Positive:

Ten minutes of negative reinforcement requires 1 hour of positive reinforcement to balance the child's emotional well being. Put the majority of your energy into positive words and interactions. Praise their efforts instead of finding the part that isn't perfect.

Don't lay blame:

Blaming is unproductive in nearly every situation. Instead, express your own feelings, deal with the situation at hand and work through the problem without causing emotional injury. Blame lays seeds for shame; shame grows into low self-confidence, which can lead to an inability to try or to succeed.

Avoid attacking:

Open attacks arouse defiance and rebellion in the aggressive child and foster withdrawal and depression in the complacent child. Examples of attacking are interrogating, criticizing, blaming, and shaming.

Allow them to feel differently than you:

It is not a threat for our children to feel, think or believe differently than us. It is simply the process of individuation that each child needs to go through if they are to come to know themselves. Teach them; love them and support their individual identities and they will eventually become the people you helped them to be.

Encourage feelings:

In some families, only certain feelings are acceptable, or only one member is allowed to express certain feelings. In a healthy system, feelings are encouraged, respected and dealt with, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be at times. Avoidance of feelings can be very subtle and include praise, sympathy, false reassurance, humor, sarcasm, and open avoidance. These things tell a child that we cannot accept him/her, that we don't want to be bothered, or that he has no right to have feelings or problems.

Be clear and concise:

Avoid lectures. Express your feelings or wishes in as few words as possible.

Give them options:

Avoid making demands. Give them a sense of self-control by giving healthy choices. Then support them in carrying out the choice they made. Avoid having an "I told you so" attitude when their choice didn't work out as expected.

Be firm:

When the consequences have been clearly outlined, follow through every time. Avoid giving in because it is easier than working through the problem. Our selfish needs are never more important than the need for the child to feel secure within a set of predictable rules.

Avoid making empty promises or threats:

Kids learn that anything goes with a parent they don't trust. Think before you speak, and avoid saying things you don't mean.

Be an example:

Avoid expecting your child do or be something you're not able to do yourself. "Do as I say, not as I do," has never been a successful tool. Emulate your expectations. Also remember that the child is a child and is not capable of thinking or behaving as an adult. Lower unrealistic expectations so that the child can accomplish the task at hand.

Be direct:

Avoid beating around the bush or expecting others to "magically know" what you think or desire. Express yourself clearly and directly even when you're sure they should already understand. Follow through: If you have made a promise, keep it. If you have defined the consequences, support them. Develop trust by being predictable.

Allow them space:

Children are people too. They occasionally need space and it isn't always when it is convenient for us. Treat them like human beings with feelings and needs like your own. We wouldn't demand that a neighbor tell us every detail of their life, and we wouldn't become angry with them it if they told us they needed some time alone to regroup. Why then should we expect that our teenagers behave differently? They need to feel that they have the same basic rights as others with whom we relate; to be allowed to be human.

Teach with patience:

Like adults, children learn at their own pace. This includes moral, ethical and spiritual issues. Avoid expecting a new teaching technique to "work" immediately.

Imagine the future:

When disciplining, keep the child's future in mind. Ask yourself "what difference or impact is this little situation going to have 20 years from now?" The degree to which it will have importance is generally the degree to which you need to put energy into it. Avoid spending time and energy on a situation that has little future relevance.

Keep your own needs separate:

Separating yourself from your child emotionally is one of the most productive things you can do. In any situation, realize that you are you and they are they. Avoid punishing because your life has been disrupted; avoid acting hastily because of your mood.

Listen without judgment or projection:

Listening is a difficult skill. parents need to listen not only to their child's words, but also to the underlying message. They need listen without anticipating what the child feels or needs. This requires the parent to set aside their own interpretations as well as their need to "fix" the situation, until a more appropriate time.

Avoid arguing:

Arguing is a form of a power struggle and generally ends with neither side accepting the ideas of the other.

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