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Parenting the Strong-Willed Child has a chapter on communication and how to have good communication skills–with strong focus on listening. These suggestions work for any relationship. My minor was in Speech Communications, so I could go on and on and ON about this topic. I had an entire semester dedicated simply to listening skills alone. These are all things that I think are quite intuitive to people; when you read it, you will realize how much sense that makes but it might not be something you have fully thought out in your head.
This chapter talks about ten common problems in communication. I think these skills can help you in communicating with your children as well as your spouse. The relationship with the spouse has an impact on the children, so it is important you work to keep it strong.
Problem One–Not Paying Attention
You might think you pay attention, or you might think it will always be easy to pay attention. Once you have a few talking children who all have many, many questions, it gets harder to pay attention properly. Some of these things take a mental focus to do. Here are some tips to pay attention.
- Eliminate Distractions. Turn the TV off, turn away from the computer, stop doing the dishes, etc. Now, I know there are going to be many, many times you and your child will have a conversation while you are preparing dinner or something like that. If your child is talking to you and you have something important you are doing, do your best to multi-task. But show your child he is more important than television and other non-essential things in life. And if it is a serious conversation, put down the potato peeler and pay attention to what he has to say. And when I say serious, I mean serious to his world, not just yours.
- Listen To Understand. This means, for one, that you don’t interrupt the other person. It also means you restate/summarize/and or clarify. When you do this, use “I” language. “I hear that you are saying you are feeling upset by what Bobby said to you today. Is that correct?” You don’t say things in accusatory manners and you don’t try to put words in the other person’s mouth. You tell them what you are understanding and ask if you are right.
And a vastly important aspect of this skills is body language. This is why you put down the distractions. You face the person who is talking to you. You look that person in the eye. You nod as he is talking. This not only shows the person you are talking to that you are paying attention, but it provides you with the opportunity to pick up on their non-verbal cues. The majority of information is passed through non-verbal cues. If you aren’t looking, you don’t see them.
Problem Two: Monopolizing The Conversation
This is pretty simple. You shouldn’t be the only one talking. You need to take turns. The other person needs to be able to talk also.
Problem Three: Silence
This is the opposite of problem two. You should be silent. You need to talk. Both parties need to talk.
Problem Four: Being Judgemental
This can be avoided by restating and summarizing as discussed above. Leave your judgements out of it. You don’t say, “I hear you are saying that you are feeling upset by what Bobby said to you. Well, you tend to have a short fuse so I am sure you said something awful to Bobby first. Is that correct?” If you judge, you are no longer listening to understand.
Problem Five: Bringing Up The Past
Keep the conversation current. If you are having a disagreement with someone, focus on the issue at hand. This is not the moment to bring up everything else the other person has done to upset you over the last five years. Stick to the right topic. And forgive. If something has been discussed and supposedly resolved, forgive and move on. If you bring up things the other person thinks you have forgiven him for, then he will have no reason to seek reconciliation and forgiveness now. Why work to attain something you can never get? Besides, the actions of other people don’t justify your actions.
Problem Six: Focusing on Who Is To Blame
It is really hard to pinpoint exactly who is to blame and who is at fault. Most of the time, if there is a problem it is with both parties. Instead, focus on solutions. What can you both do to improve the situation?
Problem Seven: Cross Complaining
“You never do the dishes.” “Oh yeah, well you don’t show enough affection!” Remember the statement above that you stick to the topic at hand? This is more likely to be a problem with two adults or an adult with an older child. If one person comes to the other with a complaint, resolve that complaint. If one is upset by the other’s lack of doing dishes, talk about dishes. The other can bring up affection at a later time after dishes are resolved. Again, the actions of other people don’t justify your actions.
Problem Eight: Mind Reading
Don’t finish the other person’s thoughts. Mind reading causes interruption and also stops listening. Once you have decided what the other person is saying, you stop listening to what the other person is saying.
Also, don’t assume you know what the other person “really meant” by a statement. If you think the other person meant more, then say, “It seems to me that you have more to say than that. Is there more you aren’t saying?” Or, “Are you saying XYZ?”–but don’t do so in an accusatory fashion. Just ask.
Problem Nine: Disrespect and Put-Downs
Be polite to each other. I know that it is your family. You feel comfortable with your family. You know your family has unconditional love for you. But don’t treat strangers better than your family. Good manners and kindness should be extended to family also.
I know life brings stress. Often times, it seems we take out our stress and frustrations with the world around us on our families because we know they will forgive us. That just isn’t right, and we all know it.
I think nothing sinks my heart faster than to hear a parent tell their little child, “You are such a brat!” in the store. I always watch the reaction of the child to this statement, and I always see pain in their eyes. If mom thinks so little of the child, why would anyone else think any better? Control your temper. It is completely unreasonable to expect a toddler or preschooler to behave perfectly all of the time. And when you top that off with allowing your own behavior to slip into an unacceptable spectrum, then why would your child do any better? If you can’t control yourself, then you can’t expect your child to on any level.
Problem Ten: Mixed Messages
Remember earlier when I talked about non-verbal cues? Statistics vary on this, but pretty much all agree that less than ten percent of a message is verbal. This book says 7-8 percent. The rest is understood through non-verbal cues (facial expressions, body language, etc) and para language (tone of voice). Work to keep your non-verbal cues in sync with your feelings. If you are slouching, looking around the room, and checking your watch, the other person will believe you don’t want to be talking to him.
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