Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 10, 2012
Anna and Rebecca are stuck in a typical pattern: Parent tries to advise teen about school, teen seems to refuse help. Argument ensues. Parent is left worried, teen is still struggling with school and they’re both frustrated. Wait a day, a week. Repeat.
In these scenarios, some parents fall into communication traps. Traps that alienate and confuse their children, despite the best of intentions. In the classic book on communicating with kidsÂ How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will TalkÂ parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish discuss tactics people use that just don’t work. Some traps parents (and Anna) fall into:
Prophesizing about her futureÂ -Â â€śYour work habits are going to stop you from being able to hold down a job.”
Comparing her -Â “Andrew applies himself, so can you!”
Denying her feelingsÂ -Â â€śOf course he doesnâ€™t hate you!”
Defending the other person - “He must feel that you’ve been doing something in class to warrant this grade.”
Making her wrong -Â â€śJust think about your own responsibility for once.”
Saying these kinds of things to your kid usually means that she will not be able to hear what you’re saying. She doesn’t feel heard and understood. As a result, she remains angry, defensive and in despair about what she’s struggling with.
To help understand this reaction, Faber and Mazlish suggest putting yourself in your child’s shoes. Imagine what you’d feel if someone responded to an upset you had about work in these ways (i.e. “I can understand that your boss screamed at you in the meeting, he’s probably under a lot of pressure”). When you are upset or hurting, these kinds of reactions make you feel worse. And probably furious because it’s like the person is telling you that you really have no reason to feel what you’re feeling.
Faber and Mazlish also point out that the overarching reaction for someone who feels unheard and thwarted is, “Oh forget it. What’s the point of going on.” Remind you of that teen favorite “Whatever, I don’t care?”
When I tutor I work to make sure my student knows he’s heard, understood and acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that I have to agree with him. It just means I’m acknowledging how he feels.Â This allows room for us to talk more about what’s bothering him, perhaps lessen his upset andÂ problem solve. For our fictitious Rebecca, if she sees that Anna understands how upsetting things are in her teacher’s class, she might begin to talk about how she can pull up her grade. And open the door for communication where both will listen.
Questions for readers:Â Are there any other communication traps you find yourself falling into? Or any really successful chats you want to share?