Whenever a child communicates something to his parent, he does so because he has a need. Something is going on inside of him. He wants something. He feels discomfort. He is upset.
For example, if your child is hungry he may communicate something that he thinks will bring him food such as a statement like “hey, when is dinner going to be ready?”
When you receive this message, you interpret it so that you can understand what is going on inside of your child. If you interpret the message correctly, you will understand that your child is hungry. But if you interpret the message incorrectly there will be misunderstanding. For example, you might interpret the message “hey, when is dinner going to be ready?” to mean that your child wants you to hurry and prepare his dinner because he wants to go outside and play.
This is what so often goes wrong in the communications between child and parent or any two people for that matter: there is a misunderstanding of the sender’s message on the part of the receiver and neither sender or the receiver may be aware that the misunderstanding exists.
- helps you check the accuracy of what you think is being communicated
- helps facilitate problem-solving by your child
- promotes a relationship of understanding between parent and child
- helps children become less afraid of negative feelings because the parent shows that they accept their child’s feelings, no matter what they are
An effective way to confront your child about behaviour that frustrates or annoys you is to use “I-messages.”
When parents want to confront their child about a behaviour that they find unacceptable, they often employ “you” messages.
- “You stop that”
- “You shouldn’t do that”
- “You should know better”
However, it is usually much more effective to use an I-message, which simply tells your child how the unacceptable behaviour is making you feel.
- “When you interrupt my conversations, I feel frustrated and I have to cut my conversations short.”
- “When you leave a mess in the kitchen after I’ve just cleaned it up, I get very discouraged and I wonder why I bothered to clean it at all.”
A good I-message contains three parts: behaviour, feeling, and effect.
First, describe the unacceptable behaviour.
- “When you didn’t come home from basketball practice on time and didn’t call to say you’d be late…”
Next, describe your feeling about that behaviour.
- “…I got worried…”
Finally, say something about the effect that this behaviour has on you.
- …and that made it impossible for me to enjoy my evening.”
I-Messages can help change your child’s behaviour because:
- they are less likely to provoke resistance than “you” messages
- they place responsibility within the child for modifying his or her behavior
- they help children respect your needs
Don’t forget to use I-Messages for positive behaviors as well. For example “When you mowed your grandfather’s lawn without being asked, I felt very proud of you.” I-messages are a great way to improve your communications and strengthen your attachment relationship.
Steps for active listening
Step 1.Ask yourself if you genuinely want to listen to your child.
Step 2.Ask yourself whether you have a deep feeling of trust in your child’s capacity to handle his or her feelings, work through them and find a solution.
Step 3.Face your child, look him or her in the eye, and give them your undivided attention.
Step 4.Repeat back what you think you heard your child say. Ask open-ended questions that elicit a better understanding of what your child wants and what they are experiencing (e.g. “tell me more about that”, “go ahead, I’m listening”, “let’s talk about it”). When you can repeat back to your child what you think they want and they agree, move your conversation towards helping them think of choices about what can happen next.
Example of active listening (adapted from T. Gordon: Parent Effectiveness Training)
Ben: Johnny won’t play with me today. He never does what I want him to do.
Parent: You’re angry with Johnny (active listening).
Ben: Yeah. I never want to play with him again. He’s stupid and I hate him.
Parent: You’re so angry you feel like never seeing him again.
Ben: But then I won’t have anyone to play with.
Parent: You would hate it if you weren’t left with anyone.
Ben: Yeah. I guess I have to get along with him somehow but it’s hard to stop getting mad at him.
Parent: You want to get along better but it’s hard to keep from getting mad at Johnny.
Ben: I never used to, but that’s when he always played what I wanted to. He won’t let me boss him around anymore.
Parent: Johnny doesn’t always go along with what you want anymore.
Ben: No…he’s not such a baby now. He’s more fun though.
Parent: You kind of like him better this way.
Ben: Yeah. But it’s hard to stop bossing him. I’m so used to it. Maybe we wouldn’t fight so much if I let him have his way once in a while. Do you think that would work?
Parent: You’re thinking that if you give in occasionally, it might help a bit.
Ben: Yeah, maybe, I’ll try it.
For more information the following resources may be helpful.
- Intimacy: The Art of Relationships. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/196912/intimacy-the-art-relationships
- Parenting Resources and Support. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/childhood-adolescence/parent/parenting-resources-support.html
- Healthy Families BC. https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/parenting
- Growing Healthy Canadians: A Guide For Positive Development.
- What do I need to know about getting a divorce? https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/divorce/family-justice/family-law/separation-divorce/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-getting-a-divorce
- Families Change: A Guide to Separation and Divorce. https://www.familieschange.ca/
- Relationships – Tips For Success. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Relationships-tips-for-success