Lines of communication can be opened or closed depending on the adult’s response to the child. When we listen beyond the words to the feelings and thoughts the child may be trying to express, we build a bridge of empathy that feels respectful and supportive. When we respond with our own feelings or thoughts rather than acknowledging the child’s, the child can feel hurt. When we don’t give emotional support, the child can’t release tensions and regain flexible and cooperative thinking. When we use a communication block, the bad feelings remain, leading to disconnection. Examples of communication blocks are: commanding, giving unwanted advice, placating, interrogating, distracting, psychologizing, being sarcastic, and moralizing.
Which of the four adult response opens the lines of communication by acknowledging what the child may be feeling or thinking? Which ones connect with emotions?
1) Child: “I hate this puzzle. It doesn’t work”
- “Stop complaining. It’s a lovely puzzle.”
- “Just take your time.”
- “You seem upset with this puzzle.”
- “It isn’t as bad as it seems. You can do it.”
2) Child: “I want to be on the swing and Maggie won’t let me.”
- “Why won’t she let you?”
- “I know what we should do. Let’s go talk with Maggie and ask for a turn.”
- “Of course she will let you on the swing.”
- “It’s hard when you want to swing and have to wait.”
3) Child: I’ll do my homework later.
- Hmm. I see. (Continue giving quiet attention to your child. Then try saying) It seems like there is some reason you don’t want to do your homework. (Be quiet and wait patiently for a response.)
- No. You will do it now!
- Get your homework done first, and then you won’t have to worry about it.
- Oh boy! Here we go again. You always hassle about doing your homework and I’m sick of it!
4) Child: “I can’t stand my hair. It never looks good.”
- You don’t seem happy with your hair.
- Well, that’s what you are born with. There’s nothing I can do about it.
- Your hair is just fine.
- Let’s see what we can do to make it better.
5) Child: “My brother (sister) is a real pain. Why did you have him (her)?”
- Because I wanted both of you.
- You seem frustrated with your brother (sister).
- You two need to learn how to get along.
- It’s normal for brothers and sisters to not get along sometimes.
6) Child: “I don’t like this food so I’m not going to eat it.”
- “What don’t you like about it?”
- “Hmm. I see.”
- “You will be hungry later if you don’t eat now.”
- “No dessert for you, then.”Which of the four adult responses do you think would keep the conversation going?
Here is the answer key of responses that are the most empathetic and have the greatest chance of keeping the conversation going.
Go to the article Learn Empathetic Responses to Keep the Conversation Going to read more examples of connecting and empathetic statements.
©2013 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Certified Parent Educator since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children of all ages. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parent coaching sessions. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and writes the Middle School Mom column for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. Contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, cynthia@bridges2understanding,com, or 650. 341.0779 to learn more about creating the relationship you want with your children.