- Be authentic
Authentic communication means you say what you feel and mean what you say. This sounds simple but it is not simple at all. Communicating authentically can often heal and provide safety for the listener yet it requires the one who is speaking to be vulnerable. Instead of an accusation such as “Why did you do that?” communicating how you feel would include stating the feeling and why the feeling was brought up: “I felt upset that you didn’t come when I asked you to. It reminded me of another time I felt upset, I overreacted. I’m sorry.”
The opposite of authentic communication is communicating with sarcasm. Sarcasm can be especially confusing for children. When adults reply with the opposite of how they are feeling it doesn’t allow the child to have the opportunity to learn empathy and also can make them feel ashamed. When a child asks, “Why are you upset, Mom?” and the mother replies with annoyance, “Why do you think I’m upset, Johnny?” it shuts down the child’s attempt at connection. Replying to an innocent question such as “Did you like the movie?” with a sarcastic response and eye roll of “I just loved it” is confusing and makes the child feel as though they were wrong to ask. Sarcasm shuts down authentic communication in its tracks.
- Use empathy.
One of the best ways to help your child develop positive behavior, emotional intelligence and insight is to use empathy (mirroring) instead of sympathy or diversion. Empathic listening is also called “mirroring” because you are reflecting the emotions of the person you are talking to. It can be communicated by checking in with the person you are talking to. Asking questions such as, “Are you feeling _______?” or statements such as “If that happened to me I might feel ____________” helps the person you are speaking to see that you are truly listening and helps you to make sure your interpretations are accurate.
- Take responsibility.
Most of us think we are taking responsibility for our feelings but we are not. As adults, no one can make us feel something unless we allow it. It is so common in our culture that we often fail to own our feelings. When we say to our children (or anyone else) statements like “Don’t make me mad,” or “That made me sad when you _______” we are telling our children that they are responsible for our feelings.
If you were raised this way, you may be thinking “But he did make me feel mad / sad / etc.” It takes some adjusting to realize that we our- selves were raised to feel like we were responsible for our parent’s behav- ior and that this was incorrect. Expanding your perspective in this area will most certainly also have you realize that your behavior may have changed accordingly, to try to avoid being the cause of your parent’s negative emotions.
Exercise: Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions
Fill in the blanks with statements you’ve heard yourself say or think in the past, then rewrite those statements using language of ownership.
I had to __________________ vs I did that because __________________. I have to __________________ vs I do that because __________________. I can’t __________________ vs I can __________________ instead.
I should __________________ vs I will __________________.
I must __________________ vs I choose to __________________.
I ought to __________________ vs I want to __________________ instead.
“I statements” can help if you’re in the habit of diverting responsi- bility.
- Don’t threaten.
Being able to parent without treats requires trust in the goodness of your child. Threatening our children ultimately communicates that we don’t trust them and that they don’t have the inner resources to do what’s right. If your goal is to raise children who are behaving well because they’re afraid of getting in trouble, and who are afraid of you and misbehave behind your back, by all means, use threats and punishments. But if your goal is to raise children who want to do the right thing because it makes them feel good, you’ll need to help them learn intrinsic motivation, which is effected by how you communicate as well as your own personal growth as a parent, which is what Transformational Parenting covers.
- Encourage instead of praise.
Did you know that telling children they are smart can make kids less likely to view themselves as intelligent? By praising children for being smart, we teach them that their performance is a definitive test of intelligence. Children might enjoy the initial praise, but when they encounter difficult challenges later – as they must – the praise backfires.
If we keep these principles in mind, it becomes clear what kinds of praise are the most helpful. Instead of telling your child she is smart or talented, try these alternatives:
- Encourage your child for her strategies (e.g., “You found a really good way to do it”).
- Encourage your child for specific work (e.g., “You did a great job with those math problems”).
- Encourage your child for his persistence or effort (e.g., “I can see you’ve been practicing” and “Your hard work has really paid off”).
Encouraging kids for effort (and not innate ability) may help them develop a better mindset for learning.
DO Encourage the Effort:
- “I love how excited you are about learning something new.”
- “You stuck with it and did well! That’s great!”
- “I like your effort. Let’s work together to help you figure out what
you don’t understand.”
- “That seemed easy for you, let’s give you something that challeng-
AVOID Generic Praise such as: • “Nice job!”
• “You did great!”
• “You’re so smart”
• “What a good boy/girl”