Monday, July 13, 2015

Mom-ing Through Faith: On Communication

"Don't do that!"


"If you do that one more time..."

"Go to Time Out!"

"Just a minute..."

"Just wait 'til your Dad gets home..."

Any of this sound familiar? Either, words coming from your mouth or from your own parents' mouths when you were growing up? 

We are mommas. We are parents. We are humans. Therefore, communication is a vital component of connection with others, including our children. However, somewhere along the way, things often take a wrong turn. I cannot tell you how many parents I've worked with who struggle with helping their child modify a certain behavior (e.g., whining; hitting; lying; not sharing; not listening) and often, it all boils down to a breakdown in one key area: communication. 

Don't think you struggle with this? Think you've got it all down pat? Don't think this applies to you? 

I hate to say're wrong. 

How do I know? Because even though I have extensively studied, have been trained in, and taught others, and parents in effective communication, I make mistakes in this area So, I'm thinking it's a safe bet that most others do, too, even though we know better and are trying our hardest to do it right. 

But here's the thing, effective communication is vital to maintaining and sustaining and modifying and nurturing relationships, including those with our children, those with our spouses, those with our families, those with our friends, those with, well, other humans.

Yet, as mommas, as busy, busy mommas, we often fall victim to the pitfalls of ineffective communication because, to be honest, doing it wrong is often easier that doing it right. 

But. Doing it right makes all the difference in the world. 

Want some specific examples of rules for effective communication? Here you go!:

Praise > Criticize. This is a BIG one. For every critique, offer 5x more praise. Want to conduct an insightful, honest experiment on yourself? For the rest of today, communicate as you usually do with your child. Take note of how many times you get onto/criticize/correct your child versus how many times you praise them/positively recognize his/her behavior. The overwhelming majority of parents don't realize how many times their communication with their child is negative ("Don't do that!" "Stop!" "You're making a bad choice!") versus positive ("I really like the way you're..." "Great job doing..." "You're making a good choice!"). We do this because we are busy and are more prone to comment on negative behavior than positive because the negative behavior sticks out to us more. For example, your child hits his sibling. You will discipline him for it. (as you should--this is a priority behavior to correct). But your child sits quietly and does a puzzle alone for 20 minutes. Who out there will honestly take the time to say, "I really like the way you sat quietly and completed your puzzle. You did a great job!" Most of us won't. Because if our child is playing quietly, it means whatever else we're doing at the time isn't being disrupted.

Use positive imagery. Instead of saying, "Don't run," try "Walk please." Instead of saying, "Don't hit your brother," try "Use nice hands please."Instead of saying, "No jumping on the bed," try "Sit down please." Because here's the thing: if you say, "No jumping on the bed," you have just given your child a visual of jumping on the bed instead of giving him/her a visual of sitting down. And also, again, we want to minimize the negative talk and maximize the positive.

Pay attention to those nonverbals. Nonverbal communication is just as, if not more, important than verbal communication. Whenever possible, look your children in the eyes when you are talking to them. Get down on eye level. And do the same when they are talking to you. Put down your phone and actually listen. Smile and nod and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Because if you don't, one day, they will stop trying to communicate with you. Why talk to someone who doesn't seem interested? 

Be short and sweet. Studies have shown that people retain approximately 20% of what they are told by a doctor. It is simply information overload. Well, the same is true for children. They don't need long, elaborative explanations and rules. Simple and clear-cut is best. Young children are capable of following single-step instructions (e.g., Put your pajamas in the hamper"). As children grow and develop, they are slowly capable of following multi-step instructions (e.g., "Put your pajamas in the hamper, put on your socks, and brush your teeth"). However, it is important to check for comprehension. After you give your child instructions, have them repeat back what you said to make sure they understand.  

Side WITH your kids. This was a very powerful part of the Andy Stanley sermon on parenting I previously referenced. Rather than viewing behavioral issues as a You versus Them, try to shift your perspective. Be on their team. As Andy says, be grieved with them when they make a bad choice. For example, "Ohhh no! You colored on the walls." Be genuinely sad they made a bad choice and talk about it. Be grieved with them and not against them. 

Do as I do. Our children are always watching, observing, taking in the world around them. They are watching us. They are listening to the words we use. They are paying attention to how we interact with others. Therefore, it's important to model good communication for them. Just as we want them to remember their P's and Q's, we should, too. Speak to your child the way you want them to speak to you--with respect and politeness. 

Have a poker face. This is another great tip that Andy offers during that sermon. Now, this is something I definitely need to work on! But basically, we should strive to "not freak out" when our child comes to us to tell us something that feels scary to them ("Mom, I spilled paint all over your new carpet"). Rather than freak out, try to remain calm and then tackle the situation together. This will help your child feel comfortable coming to you again in the future rather than trying to hide additional, and bigger, problems down the road ("Mom, I smoked a cigarette for the first time."). 

Verbalize emotions. As parents, we have the great responsibility to educate our children on emotional expression. As early as possible, it's important to help your child learn to label emotions: "I can see that you feel angry I won't let you dump out the dog's water bowl." It is important to label our own emotions for them, too: "I feel so happy that you got in the car the first time I asked. Great job!" Try using this technique as an example: "When you ____, I feel _____ because ______." For example, "When you run away from mommy in the store, I feel worried because you might get lost."

Pray out loud. Early on, it is important to pray out loud with, and for, your children. Not only does this demonstrate to them the importance and power of prayer, but it allows for open communication, it allows for them to hear what is on your heart. And then, they learn to do it, too. As early as possible, encourage your child to say their own bedtime prayers with you and don't correct what they are praying for ("Dear God, Please let me go back to Disney World to see the princesses."). This is not the time to critique. This is the time to praise them for opening up their hearts to the Lord. 

Like everything in parenting, this is all easier said than done (no pun intended ;) ). However, it truly can make a world of difference and really make the later stages of discipline (coaching; friendship) that much easier. 

Next week, another topic that completely changed the way I parent, from an amazing book my LifeGroup studied earlier this year. This one is a game-changer, and you won't want to miss it! See you next week.:) 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29.

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