A hole in the ground.… How words matter
I was on the #1 train in Manhattan today, leaving an appointment where I was promoting my parenting program. I overheard a conversation between two men that caught my attention. As I was engaged in my book I couldn’t help but smile as I partially overheard their dialogue. One was a New Yorker, the other a tour guide. He was obviously not familiar with New York and was asking many questions. Should he take his group to see Coney Island? Is it worth the one hour train ride? Can they walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and see the United Nations in the same afternoon? Then he said the most amazing thing, “We’ve already seen the hole in the ground.” Let me repeat that just in case it didn’t make enough of an impression on the first read. He said, “We’ve already seen the hole in the ground.” Get it? This was a reference to the 911 site!
I could and would not contain myself. A hole in the ground? I repeated with disgust oozing from every pore in my body. Yeah he said I went back and saw they threw some water in it and took out the poles. It looked better. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard this. If they did, they weren’t getting involved. I noticed there was much silence after that and when he continued to ask questions of the young New Yorker he found no more helpful assistance.
What does this have to do with parenting I thought? I knew I wanted to put this story out there but didn’t immediately make a connection to my focus of elevating parenting skills. And then it hit me. This is all about communication. Words matter. With the words he chose he managed to insult the memory of a tragic event. He showed complete disrespect for the site and the people affected. I don’t even know if it mattered if he was American or not. Besides the lack of respect, his words affected the amount of cooperation he later received. We don’t cooperate when we feel disrespected.
So if this story allows you to think of communciation between parents and children.…. I’ve done my job.
One way to gain cooperation is to be aware of the way we speak when they do something wrong or when they are not following through with a direction. If you are a parent that continually repeats directions it is possible that your child has tuned you out and hears your voice as mere background noise. Additionally, if your requests are ignored and go without consequence then your child will continue to be unresponsive to you. To gain your child’s cooperation it is often best to describe the problem in simple terms. State the importance, tell your child what you want them to do, (not what you don’t want them to do) and then limit your reminders. Make sure your child knows that your request is serious and ignoring it is not an option. Limit the amount of requests you make so that it is not overwhelming. Prioritize, choose your battles and build your expectations as your child demonstrates improved behavior. A child that cooperates is more likely to make choices that demonstrate their family’s values.
Communication is all about being an active listener. Active listening will improve your relationship with your children as well as everyone you choose to listen empathetically to. It means you not only listen but you respond in a way that shows no judgment, no attempt to solve and no attempt to make the situation into a lesson. When you respond to your child with your opinion, judgment or a lesson you reduce their motivation to tell you things. Open communication is critical. There are other opportunities to parent our children and guide them.
Show respect and you will receive it.