by McKayla Skinner
Parent-child communication is often challenging. Across time and culture almost all parents have had to confront contention in their homes, and most have realized that they needed to change the communication patterns in their family. As a young mother with three children under four years of age, I too have tried to address communication issues in my own little family. The good news is, parent-child communication can be improved.
U.S. News noted the struggle to communicate with children in an article entitled “Are We Leading Our Children to Become Addicted to Anger?” In it, the author Steven Schlozman, M.D. noted that opportunities are missed by parents and teachers when there is an embargo on civil discourse, when the desire to be right trumps making the right choice. Schlozman says that when children are taught what to think but not how to think, they don’t know how to see multiple sides to an issue and may even become addicted to anger itself.
So how do we teach our kids how to think amidst conflict? Here’s a few positive parenting suggestions:
- When mitigating conflicts among children, labeling how each person is feeling is more likely to bring reconciliation and compassion. When children feel like they have a voice, they begin to make sense of their world rather than being put on the offensive. Identifying the situation and being able to label feelings of jealousy, loneliness, fear, or curiosity, not only deescalates the situation but also teaches compassion in the future.
- Breathe with them. Another article suggests using the phrase “smell the cake, and blow out the candles” with children as a breathing technique. Instead of demanding students to “CALM DOWN” during yoga sessions, instructors guide through imagery, breath, and modeling to guide their students to a calmer state. Likewise, parents are more likely to be successful extinguishing a temper tantrum with an invitation, rather than a threat. If nothing else, the parent keeps control of the situation when they keep their own anger in check.
- Ask a Question. I noticed I saved a lot of emotional energy with my daughter recently over the choice of a movie. I really did not want her to sit through another “My Little Pony.” So, I said that while “My Little Pony” was her first choice, I also wanted to know what her second and third choices were. In this way, I encouraged her to branch out, and it worked! In fact, she used the same strategy herself later that day when she had another choice to make.
- Give them a job. This has worked wonders with our children around our home, and has helped to avoid sibling jealousy of parental attention. It is also a means of asking for a break or some personal space. This can be done through delegating responsibility and highlighting things that need to be done, even if it means having one person measure ingredients, another person mix, and another setting the table. The key is helping everyone feel valued.
- This has been a big one as I have pondered my own parenting practices this month. Instead of seeing my child’s temper tantrum as an assault on parental authority, I see it as my children posing the questions “What do I do in this situation?” or “How do I respond to these negative feelings?” Asking myself questions about difficult situations helps me to reframe how I see the situation, and ultimately my response.
Incorporating some of these strategies has given me the opportunity to see my children in a new light, and to practice a more positive influence. Overtime, small changes can bring peaceful rewards in the home.