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Five ways to better communicate with your child

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Five ways to better communicate with your child

How many of us have set goals for ourselves as parents that all too quickly are forgotten or put aside the first time something doesn’t work out as planned? The following set of principles will help you achieve your goals and more.

There is no failure, only feedback
You do something and it doesn’t work out the way you had planned. How often do you interpret this as failure?

Think of when your children first learned to walk. They would tentatively stand, maybe attempt a step and fall down. Then, they would immediately get up and attempt to walk again. At no time did they view the previous attempt as failure or immediately conclude “Well, I guess I’m just not a walker!” Instead, they took it as an opportunity to learn and see how far they could get next time.

How different would it be for your family if each of you viewed failure simply as feedback – an opportunity to learn how not to do something and to become flexible in developing new ways to achieve your intended outcomes? Would this give each of you permission and encouragement to undertake new things, be curious and be potentially more successful in life?

You cannot not communicate

Often we think we communicate only through the words we say or write. This is not so. You also communicate through your tone of voice, body language and actions. You may say the “right” words, and if your tone of voice or body language is not in alignment with those words, which message is really received? Even no communication sends a message, and it is often not a positive one.

Purchasing a special gift for someone or doing something you know they will like, just because you want to, sends a powerful message. The same is true for not living up to your promises and commitments. Take time to step back and see the impact of your actions on your family. Is this really the impression you wish to create or the message you wish to convey?

The family member with the most flexibility of behaviour has the most influence
Have you ever been stuck in life, doing the same things repeatedly and each time expecting to get a different result? This is the widely known definition of insanity. If you want your life to be different, doing the same things more often, harder or louder is not the way to change it. You must choose to do something different.

Children are great examples of being flexible enough to influence the system and get what they want. Perhaps they ask one parent, then the other, maybe they will promise to be good or perhaps begin to cry or yell and scream. Although some of the behaviours may not be welcomed, this is flexibility. As parents, we do not demonstrate flexibility regularly. Instead, we are often seen as rigid in our behaviors and viewpoint. Note that I do not imply that giving into your child’s demands is demonstrating flexibility.

Have you ever noticed someone in your family being very inflexible, trying to control everything? He lives under the illusion that he is in charge. In reality, other family members simply find ways to avoid dealing with him. Another member of the family may be someone whom people enjoy talking with and helping. Why? Because by being flexible in her behaviors and knowing her boundaries, she is able to assist others and communicate her needs as required. Others see her as a valuable asset in their lives.

The meaning of communication is the response it produces
Your intended communication is not always what is understood by the other person. It does not matter what your intention is. What matters is how the other person interprets your communication and the results you generate from your words, tone of voice, facial expression and body language. By being flexible, you can change how you communicate until you achieve your desired outcome.

Consider the following situation. Your child comes home pleased and excited, having received an A-minus on his assignment. You are also very pleased until you notice an error, and to help him improve and do even better next time, you point this out in a caring and supportive manner. He gets upset and runs to his room. His reaction is not what you expected. Obviously he heard your message very differently from what you had intended. Perhaps, from his perspective, he felt as though you did not see him as “good enough.” You can leave it at that and decide he simply needs to grow out of it. Or you can recognize that your comment did not produce the result you had intended and, being flexible, find different ways to communicate with him so that you both enjoy a loving, caring and supporting relationship.

Every behaviour is appropriate in some context

If your child is throwing a football in your dining room, I am sure you would agree this is not the place to do it and there are other more suitable contexts. You can easily get caught up in either labeling her behavior as bad or even telling your child that she is bad. Neither is correct:
Labelling a behaviour as bad may discourage a child from ever doing it again – in any context. The child, who learns that it is not wise to speak up for herself because she is not being respectful of adults, may not be able to do so when required or as an adult.

The behaviour is not bad and neither is the child, the behavior is simply in the wrong context. You can easily explain to your child in a respectful and supportive manner where and when this behavior is useful and where and when it isn’t.

Roger Ellerton, PhD, CMC is an NLP trainer, coach and author based in Ottawa, Ont. This article is an excerpt from his most recent book, “Parents’ Handbook: NLP and Common Sense Guide for Family Well-Being”,