Do you ‘react’ or ‘respond’?
The one you choose will make a difference in how your relationship with them evolves.
When we react to our children’s thoughts, ideas or actions it is typically an instantaneous impulse. It is often a knee-jerk reaction based on our emotions. Have you ever had your child ask permission to do something completely outrageous and without skipping a beat your reply is an emphatic “NO!”? How did your child react to your answer? Was it pleasant? Or, did your child in turn display negative emotions becoming defensive and argumentative?
A parent recently contacted me for advice about how to reach her 15 year old daughter…they were fast becoming enemies (her words) and their communication was nearly gone. She explained that when her daughter was younger they had great conversations but as she got older they became less frequent.
What brought her to me was a situation that landed them in a battle that had become hateful with ugly words being said on both parts. This parent wanted to know how to repair her relationship with her daughter.
According to the mother, her daughter came home from school one day asking if she could go on an overnight beach trip with a group of friends. One of her friend’s grandparents owned a condo on the beach that they had permission to use. The group included 3 girls and 4 boys; all except for one was 16 or older. The mother’s answer was an absolute no. But according to her daughter there wasn’t any discussion, “She never even listened to me, she said, she just freaked out and kept saying ‘No way, forget it!” And apparently that is where the conversation ended.
Now, I am sure there isn’t a parent out there, including me, who would disagree with the mother that this was not a good idea or good situation for a 15 year old to participate in.
However, based on the ‘reaction’ of the mother, there wasn’t much room for her daughter to do anything other than rebel and argue.
The mother reacted out of emotion. Regardless of the validity of her reasons, she allowed her emotions to dictate how the conversation would go.
I advised the mother to rethink her approach and once she did she realized that that was definitely a moment where taking a deep breath, collecting her thoughts and reasons in order to present them without emotion would have been far more productive. And in doing so she would be in a position to respond to her daughter’s request and lead them through a conversation in a much more positive manner.
There are two very important considerations to be made when communicating with your children, regardless of their age or the topic of conversation.
The first is to always allow them to speak without interruption. So often, complaints from children revolve around feeling they are not heard. By giving your undivided attention and not interrupting while they are expressing themselves you have taken that risk off the table.
In fact, I often advise that once they have shared their thoughts ask them if they have anything else to share BEFORE you speak…this will reinforce that you do care about their feelings and that you do want to hear what they have to say.
The second is to not share your thoughts and feelings until you are ready to do so without emotion. You may have to ask to postpone the conversation by asking for a chance to think about it first. If you do, it is important to not leave it open-ended but establish a definite time when you will resume the conversation. You may only need a matter of minutes but then again you may need longer. It is important that this also becomes a conversation and not done with an air of dictating.
For example, you might say “I have heard your thoughts and understand how you feel, I would like to think about this, would it be okay with you if I take some time to think it over…can we talk about this again after dinner?”
When the conversation is resumed, be sure to have your thoughts, feelings and reasons clear in your mind and present them with compassion. “I can see that this means a lot to you and I really wish I could feel comfortable with it but I need to be honest and explain that I don’t because………”
This is not to say that your child will necessarily be happy about your decision, and that’s okay. The point is that you have avoided a breakdown in your relationship and modeled a healthy way of communicating.
These steps can be applied to any situation keeping in mind to always address your child in an age appropriate way.
As parents it is up to us to set the tone of our conversations with our children. Ask yourself, “Do I react or respond?” and remember it is through our actions they learn how to conduct themselves.