Keep those lines of communication with your kids open- even when it's tough!
Sarah here. We hope that you enjoyed last week’s blog on miscommunications. This week, we’re talking about another communication woe that can create a lot of conflict: conversational one-upmanship.
Imagine you’re having a typical dinner with a friend, co-worker or significant other. How does the conversation likely go? If you’re like most people, you’ll probably ask the other person how their day went, they’ll ask you how your day went, and maybe you’ll both share stories about your day. Sounds innocent enough, right?
Depending on the energy and context of that conversation, this innocent “how was your day” chat can quickly become an exhausting exchange of war stories about daily hassles, workplace drama and petty office politics. It can start to feel like a competition to see who wins the “I had the crappiest day at work” award. Somehow, when we’re trying to share, sympathize and relate to the other person, we overdo it and end up in social comparison mode.
This doesn’t just happen with our co-workers, friends, and partners. Imagine that your child or teen mentions that they feel stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted from their long day at school. Or maybe your teen or young adult child brings up feeling tired from work. You may not mean to, but you (like many people) may go into the same social comparison mode with your kids in this situation. Maybe you point out that they can’t imagine what tired really feels like because they don’t have a “real job.” Maybe you laughingly ask them what they have to be stressed about.
We don’t think most parents are competing with their kids on purpose. But, by drawing these kinds of social comparisons, parents are inadvertently dismissing their kids’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When this situation shows up repeatedly, kids may be less likely to open up and talk with their parents in the future.
How can you avoid conversational one-upmanship with your family? Remember that no matter how old your child is, their thoughts, feelings, and experiences are valid. They are allowed to feel tired or stressed or overwhelmed, just like you are now. It may be hard to remember, but if you’re honest with yourself, you likely felt some of those same things when you were their age.
Remember that conversations are about communicating- not competing. Focus on listening. Reflect back what your child says to make sure you understood them and to let them know you’re paying attention. Provide empathy and encouragement with your verbal and nonverbal cues. And, if your child is looking for support or solutions, be there to help them problem solve. Using these strategies will likely help you sidestep conversational one-upmanship and—as an added bonus—you’ll likely have a more enjoyable and engaging conversation with your kids!
Lisa here. I hope you’ve been using the tips we’ve been providing in our series on communication. Today we’re talking about another common source of miscommunication. Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated because your kids (or partner/friend/coworker/etc.) did not do the thing they “should have” done?
Many times, we fall into the trap of expecting people to do things or do them a certain way because we’ve asked them to do it before, they’ve seen how we do it, or we figure they should already know how to do it. Sometimes we hold others accountable for things that we think, but do not express. Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “They know me, so they should know that’s what I wanted?” or, “I said it last time, they should have remembered”?
We’re all human. Sometimes we don’t fully express what we want and then expect others to figure it out. This frequently happens with parents and their kids, especially when it comes to things like chores or getting permission to do things (e.g., going to friends’ houses, using electronics, etc.). But unspoken expectations are not fair to anyone- to yourself or to your kids. The quick rule of thumb here is: If you didn’t say it, they don’t know it. You can’t really hold your kids accountable for something you didn’t tell them about or fully explain.
It’s okay to feel frustrated, disappointed or even angry when these types of miscommunications happen. But, if you slow down and think it through, you will realize that your child is not responsible for the mix-up. Instead of reacting based on your feelings, take a minute to think through what you actually wanted them to do and whether you explained it to them clearly. If not, the good news is, you now have a chance to fix the miscommunication. If it’s something you know you’ll be asking them to do in the future (e.g., a particular chore), explain that what you’re asking for now is what you will also want in the future. But be aware that the next time you ask, you will probably need to remind your kids how you want it done until they get the hang of it.
Remember, communication is a learning process. When you are the one who wants someone else to understand something, the lion’s share of responsibility is on you. Your kids are not mind readers, so be clear in what you want. It also doesn’t hurt to check in to make sure they actually understood you. Making sure you communicate what you want and not expecting your kids to be in your head with you will lead to fewer misunderstanding, less frustration and smoother communication for you and your kids.
Sarah here. We hope that you enjoyed last week’s blog on the words we use versus the words we mean. This week, we’re again focusing on communication and language. This time, we’re talking about a particular phrase: “I can’t do it.”
As a parent, you may cringe or feel saddened when your child says “I can’t do it” before they even get started. After all, as parents, we encourage our children to try new things, to persevere and finish things, even when they’re difficult.
But, what about you? Take a moment to think about it. Do you ever say “I can’t do it” before you even try something? If you’re like most of us, you probably say this phrase at least some of the time. But, when you say, “I can’t do it,” what do you really mean? Do you mean you literally are incapable of doing the thing? Or do you mean you don’t want to do it, don’t enjoy it, aren’t good at it, don’t feel confident about doing it, haven’t done it in a while, it isn’t a convenient time to do it, you’d rather do something else, etc.? My guess is there are probably times that you say “I can’t do it” and that’s exactly what you mean. There are probably more times that you say “I can’t do it” but you really mean something else.
Why does this matter? Remember that how we talk about ourselves can reflect how we think about ourselves and vice versa. If we say we can’t do something, we’re likely to believe it’s true. How we talk about ourselves also impacts our actions. If we say we can’t do something, we’re less likely to give it a shot. And remember that as a parent, you’re constantly modeling behaviors and self-talk for your family. Kids pick up on what we say and how we act- even when we don’t think they’re watching and even when we aren’t intending to be a role model.
Bottom line: what we say and how we say it matters. Be mindful of the words you use. Avoid saying “I can’t” unless it’s what you truly mean. And don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try something new or different! You’ll show your family that it’s okay to try new and different things.
Feel free to peruse our blog and see what Sarah and Lisa had to say about topics related to your needs as a busy parent. We will talk about everything from parenting values, to life hacks, to realistic self-care.