When I learned about communication blocks as an Active Parenting Course instructor, my life changed. I realized that if I didn’t take some responsibility for my daughter’s, husband’s, or other people’s negative reactions to what I said that I wouldn’t be able to improve my relationships. The more I took responsibility for learning how to build bridges to better understanding rather than barriers or blocks, the more I could create connected and close interactions.
I was motivated to change by an intensely deep desire to have a close relationship with my daughter. This desire began as a suffering teenager due to the lack of closeness with my mother. I knew I wanted to feel close and have trusting conversations with my future daughter.
Any change requires self-reflection and a motivating force that drives you through the unpleasantness of acknowledging that you need to change, trying new ideas, failing and then trying again until you succeed. What is your motivation to change? Perhaps your driving force is a similar vision of a happier and more cooperative family.
The core of many family problems I hear about is the inability to listen openly to a suffering child without trying to eliminate their pain in some way. Instead of making a child feel better, your loving “help” can have the opposite effect. Your attempts at fixing can make them feel undervalued, unimportant, and unsupported; the exact opposite of what you want. Your uneducated choice of words and actions turn into barriers rather than bridges to understanding.
A key barrier is our defensive emotional reactions that stop us from staying focused on what our child is feeling, thinking and needing from us at that moment. We interpret his resistance to our fixing as a rejection. Rather than staying focused on how can I help my child cope with their feelings and thoughts, we can become self-focused on how do I protect my own hurt feelings?
You and your children’s need to protect yourselves when you feel hurt can be expressed through negative revenge. It’s tough to acknowledge our revengeful words, feelings, and actions that shut down loving and helpful communication. Once we start defending ourselves, we create an adversarial relationship where no one ends up feeling good. It’s up to us to stop the hurt, connect emotionally to our kids’ needs, and offer meaningful problem solving communication.
Here is an example of how a negative defensive interaction could play out.
Situation: Your child is struggling with homework and you want to help so they don’t keep suffering. You decide to give advice. Often, children don’t want advice because the underlying message is that they can’t find their own solutions and this hurts. Your advice, regardless of your intention, is perceived as a communication block or barrier.
Parent’s advice: I think you should work on your homework for 30 minutes, take a 10 minute break then work on it for 30 more minutes.
Hurt child’s possible responses: I’m not going to do that. I’ll never get it done if I do it that way. You don’t understand. You think I’m stupid.
Triggered parent’s possible thoughts: She thinks I’m stupid. She’s rejecting my idea. She never listens to me. My older siblings never listened to me. Everyone always told me to shut up. She’s so mean. I’m not going to help her anymore. She’s a spoiled and ungrateful child.
Triggered parent’s possible defensive responses: I wasn’t saying you’re stupid. Don’t be so sensitive. I’m just trying to help. Don’t talk to me that way. We don’t allow that kind of language in our house. That’s disrespectful. You can just do it on your own, then. Don’t blame me if you fail. You are so unappreciative for everything I do for you. I would never have spoken to my parents the way you talk to me.
Hurt child’s possible response: I hate you. Why are you so mean? Leave me alone. I didn’t ask for your help. You don’t understand. I hate my life.
The continual breakdown of communication can lead to yelling, crying, slamming doors, tantrums, isolation, and more hurtful words. You have the power to change this negative dynamic in your family. This begins with your determination to change your triggered parent’s thoughts and defensive responses. When you take control of your emotional center, and bring out your logical brain, you are not only creating more positive interactions with your kids, you are also teaching them how to become more emotionally aware and intelligent.
Let’s say you gave unwanted advice and your child responded with the above hurtful comments. You realize your mistake and you want to reverse the hurt since you didn’t avoid it from the beginning. Respond as a supportive parent.
Parent’s thoughts: I’ve hurt her feelings. She just wants to be listened to right now. She doesn’t need my advice.
Parent’s response: I’m sorry. You don’t need my advice. You’re feeling really bad about your homework right now.
Child’s response: It’s horrible. I just can’t do it and I’m not going to. They give way too much homework.
Parent’s response: I bet you would rather be doing anything but homework right now.
Child’s response: Yeah! I’d love to watch a movie and forget about all my work.
Parent’s response: I know.
Child’s response: It just isn’t fair. Why do they give so much?
Parent’s response: That’s something to think and talk about. What about tonight, though?
Child’s response: I know I have to do it but I just don’t know how to do it all.
Parent’s response: How about if we talk about ideas together and come up with a solution to try?
Child’s response: Okay. Thanks
Your ability to listen openly will lead your children to their own thoughtful solutions.
©2014 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Certified Parent Educator since 1994. She guides parents to create a caring, cooperative, and courageous family. Cynthia presents her expertise through writing, speaking, and private parenting coaching sessions. She is a member of the National Speakers Association, Parents Place Parenting Educator, and is a columnist for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. Contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, cynthia@bridges2understanding,com, or 650. 679.8138.