Call me a slow learner. For too many years, I pushed too hard when talking to my kids.
Somehow a brief comment turned into a nagging lecture. Something positive instantly became negative.
Initially I had the best of intentions, as most parents do.
But I felt compelled to make my point not once – but again and again and again, because I care. Each time displaying less tact until it was completely gone. When my pattern of behavior became predictable, my children stopped listening. They tuned me out. They simply reacted – and not in the most courteous way.
Even though I had something worthwhile to say.
In other words, it was time for the duct tape.
I had to stop talking.
Then I watched one of their teachers in action. She was a master of communication – using a minimal number of words, acknowledging individual feelings, sequencing thoughts to action, keeping the message positive and rarely resorting to “no” or “stop.” Sometimes a hand gesture worked better than words.
First, the simple – yet highly intentional – messages reminded her students of the task at hand. Second, they offered extra direction to those who needed it. Third, they made everyone feel valued.
And along the way, she displayed patience in every breath. A skill she developed with practice.
A desirable outcome every time – because she was able to connect on their level.
Equally important as the number of words was her even – and predictable – tone. It was never condescending or overly jubilant. By habit and design, she never came off as patronizing.
Not surprisingly, her students respected her. She made them feel safe. And in the process, she formed meaningful and trusting relationships – unlike the teacher across the hall. The culture there was entirely different. Not toxic – but certainly not nurturing.
I eventually volunteered in her classroom for a closer look. That’s when I was ready to test the waters at home. Although not as smooth as the teacher, my kids DID respond – and still do today – with more compliance and less defiance.
My “words” mattered. The fewer the better.
Have I become perfect in approach? I can only wish. Old habits die hard. When I stumble and over-react, lose my patience and force too many words, I am painfully reminded. I can make a bad situation worse in a heartbeat.
That’s right, parents can escalate a childish attitude into an unnecessary argument – or even a rage with their own misplaced emotions. Fight or flight is very real for individuals with past trauma – yet often preventable if not backed into a corner with too many words. You read that correctly. Preventable.
I’ve done it more than once with my words. I must shoulder part of the blame.
My kids notice too. Dad messed up.
Without question, I damage the trust that I worked so hard to build. At the same time, I fail to model the behavior that I would like to see in them. Children truly “do” as they “see.” We are their mirror, and they will mimic us.
So what’s the advice today?
When you need to respond to your children (or anyone for that matter) – but feel rushed or anxious, PAUSE. Wait a few minutes, perhaps overnight – because once the words leave your mouth, they can’t be taken back.
Saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing.
If you feel the need to vent – as most parents do from time to time, save that emotion for another adult. NOT a child. “Get it out” and then do your best to move on without regrets. Forgive. Otherwise, the feelings can actually intensify – making you angrier than before.
This dysfunctional cycle unfortunately is present in many home dealing with trauma.
And only you can break it.
By dealing with personal frustration first – and focusing on self-care, you will be amazed at the difference. Like me, you will become more effective in communicating with your children. “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In other words, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” Author unknown.
Just right. DCP
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