Wednesday, April 26, 2017

5 Tips on How to Stop Arguing and Start Communicating with your Child/Tween/Teen

Tired of arguing with your child/tween/teen?  Want to turn an adversarial relationship with your child around and have an actual conversation?  Here are some things that you can do immediately to improve communication with your child.
Communicating without yelling

1. Listen.

Now you are probably thinking that you do listen, and this is about the lamest advice ever, but I would wager that you really don't listen.  Most people don't really listen.  They listen to reply.

Next conversation with someone (anyone), observe yourself.  I'll bet you a mimosa, while the person
is talking to you, your mind wanders at least once to thinking about what you think about what they said (judging, categorizing, etc.).  You think about how you are going to respond to what they have said.  Some of you might be thinking about dinner or something altogether unrelated, and some of you have thought about all the above during that 30 seconds the person was speaking.

So Step 1 is clear your mind of what you need to do, what you want to say, and just listen.  It's okay to ask clarifying questions, but other than that, listening does not involve talking.

2. STOP telling them how they feel; instead seek to understand.

I know you have a million things to do, and probably other children or beings that need you.  It's hard to feign interest in the school drama that you know will not matter in a week, 6 months, and certainly not a year from now. After all, we were teenagers once, right?  We've ben through it, dealt with it, and came out stronger for having done so, yada, yada, yada.

Yes,  all that is true.  However you are you, and your child is not you, and no offense here, but your child most likely doesn't want to be you right now, so any comparison you make to you could result in a "You just don't understand!!" So, stop assuming that you know how they feel.  Even if you are right about how they feel, even if you are coming from a good place, and trying to show them you understand what they are going through, people generally like to speak for themselves, and just get out what they are holding inside.  Which leads me to my next point...

No one likes to be told how they feel.  They like it about as much as being told what to do.  It goes back to that need we have as human beings to be unique and special.  You can't convey to your child that they are unique and special, and tell them that you know how they feel because you were once like them.  See the hypocrisy in this?  Don't believe me?  Think about when you told someone about something that happened during the day that irritated you, like your husband for example.  Hubs cuts you off and says, "I don't see why you are so upset.", "Why do you let them bother you?", or "I'll tell you how to fix it."  And how about this one, that very well may be true, but it just instantly pisses me off, "Is it your time of the month because you sort of overreact when it's that time."  Tell me, Mommas, you don't know what I am talking about.  I'm not bashing husbands. They are trying to help when they are telling you how to "fix" your problem, but that is not why we are telling them our story, right?   This is why we discuss some problems with our girlfriends and not our husbands.  Don't do this to your kid, please.

Hear them.  Hear their joy, their pain, or their anxiety.  Clear your mind, and just listen without worrying about having the answers or advice to solve their problems.

3. Empathize with them, and meet them where they are.  

This means listening without judgment.  You feel how you feel.  You can't help it.  If you are sad, you are sad.  Create a safe space with you for them to acknowledge their feelings.  Isn't this what so many adults seek therapy for?  To be able to express their emotions?  How much stress, heartburn, overeating, and all kinds of misery are caused because we simply don't or can't acknowledge our feelings?  Now is a great time for children to learn how to acknowledge those feelings in a healthy way, so that they can deal with them in a healthy way.

4. So how do I parent then, when I just can't let some behaviors go?  

If you have met them where they are, and validated their feelings by listening, then chances are you are in a good place to coach them on appropriate behavior.  So, what happens if your child acts out inappropriately because they are "feeling" what they feel"?

It's okay to feel how you feel, it is not okay to act how you want to act.  Actions bring consequences, feelings don't.  Feelings are reactions, actions are choices.  My child can be pissed off at her sibling, and I will not judge her for that, whether or not I am of the opinion that said sibling earned this anger.  However, she cannot hit him in the head with his light saber because he was "annoying" her.  Those actions/choices have consequences.

5. How to be heard by your child once it is your turn to respond (without entering Round 2 with them).

Rational thinking cannot occur where there is high emotion.  Think about when you felt someone wronged you in some way.  If they apologize (and mean it), acknowledge that they upset you, it takes the venom right out of the epic tell-off you had planned (which admittedly is also sometimes disappointing). My daughter told me that it was her brother's fault that she hit him with a light saber because besides the fact that he was annoying her, it was actually his light saber.  Me asking a clarifying question, "So, because he owns the light saber, it's his fault?"  Her response, "Yes!!"  See what I mean about the inability to think rationally at this stage?

This doesn't mean you necessarily agree with your child, but you should be able to say honestly, "I see that you are upset.  I understand why you are upset." You don't have to follow up with "I would be upset too" if you don't mean it.

Instead of telling, try asking.   What do you want to do about the situation?  How can I help you? Do you want me to think of some possible ideas or responses with you?

So going back to the (hypothetical 😉) light saber example....

  1. Step 1: Listen to how wronged she was, how unfair and tough life is for the youngest child.
  2. Step 2  Seek to understand: Help me understand...What is the toughest part for you about being the youngest?  (Bonus: Often talking it out gives them the chance to see for themselves that life isn't soooo bad for them. 
  3. Step 3: Empathize and meet them where they are: Yes, I see it must be tough. I wish that it didn't feel this way for you (totally true, because if she didn't' feel this way, we wouldn't be having this discussion).
  4. Parenting, addressing inappropriate behavior.  I think I understand how you feel now. Anything else bugging you? (No) How do you think your brother feels about all of this right now?  (Gets them to start thinking of others and how their behavior impacts others).  What do you think you need to do/should do/would want done for you if the situation were reversed and your brother hit you in the head with the light saber? How can you make it better?  What is a better way of dealing with him next time you get frustrated with him?  

I will leave you with some last thoughts to consider. Giving someone your undivided attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone.  Your child deserves this from you.  It doesn't have to be an hour long conversation.  It can be 20 minutes you regularly carve out of your day, sometimes less.  Sometimes it's in the car on the way to practice, sometimes right before bed.

When they start talking, look them in the eye, and show them you are listening.  If you can't do it at that time, say, "I am in the middle of this right now, give me 5 minutes."  Don't forget. Follow-up with them.

I often hear, but "I'm too tired." I can't dispute that.  I can tell you that I truly believe that you will find a positive conversation is invigorating, not draining, so the more that you carve out time for thoughtful, rewarding conversation, the less tiring communicating will be.

Finally, do not be afraid to institute a "cooling off"period if you are too worked up to have a rational conversation.  I've told my kids to wait in their rooms while I cool off so that I can have a calm conversation with them. They know when this happens that they have really made me mad, and they see an adult way of dealing with the anger I have.  Hopefully, they will remember this example next time they get the urge to grab a light saber.

Other posts like this:

How to Change Your Child's Behavior Without Yelling

When Did We Become Alright With referring to Our Kids as A**holes?

Why I Don't Tell My Daughter she's Pretty

Summer Reading Books that both Boys and Girls Will Love


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