Many thanks to graphic recorder Paula Kehoe for creating this infographic from my recent presentation to parents at a local high school about using Motivational Interviewing with teens. Isn’t it cool!?
Many parents find themselves repeating the rules and implementing consequences when their child misbehaves, like this: “You know you are not allowed to talk to me like that! Go to your room until you can speak appropriately.”
Many parents also tell me that deep down they don’t feel satisfied with this approach, but they don’t know an alternative. I agree that there’s a better way, and here’s one option:
“Honey, I know you are aware that I don’t like to be spoken to that way. It’s not like you to be disrespectful. What’s going on?”
This strategy for addressing transgression is more likely to call forth the best in your child for several reasons: first, it gives him credit for doing well most of the time and makes it clear that you see this as a temporary glitch, and second, it communicates concern and connection and positions you as a resource rather than an adversary.
Whatever is beneath your child’s misbehavior can be most effectively addressed with your assistance — your empathetic listening and willingness to stay connected and help him through whatever is prohibiting him from being his best are more likely to lead to improved behavior than reminders and isolation.
The ringmaster at the circus usually opens the show with a time-honored phrase: “Your attention, please!” Why is this? Because he knows that if he’s able to direct your attention, he is more likely to be able to control your experience.
In my opinion, the single most important skill to develop in life is becoming the master of your own attention. (And by the way, I still have a lot of work to do in this area!)
At any given time, there will be many events, people, and circumstances clamoring for your acknowledgment.
Notice them all. But choose wisely which of them will receive your sustained attention, because what you focus on expands for you. Make sure you only devote your deep attention toward experiences you want more of.
If you feel stuck in a circumstance that you don’t want more of, you have some work to do. Shift and sort until you find something within it that you do appreciate: a kind doorman in the building with the nasty neighbors, a coworker who brings homemade cookies to the office that teems with petty gossip, or as Mr. Rogers said, the helpers who run toward danger and crisis to rescue and take care of those who were harmed.
Right foot hurts? Focus on your left. Angry about the driver who cut you off? Focus on the hundreds of other drivers you’ve encountered in traffic today who didn’t.
Learn to intentionally direct the power of your attention, and you will possess the key to change your entire experience of the world.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/83741261@N04/22703819258″>circus 3</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Hurt feelings happen. What distinguishes healthy relationships from dysfunctional ones is the way we respond to each other when our feelings are hurt.
If we confront and blame the other party under the assumption that they intended to cause us pain, they often become defensive because they feel deeply misunderstood. And it’s quite rare for two upset and defensive people to have a productive dialogue.
Instead we might broach the subject in this way: I believe that you did not intend to hurt or offend me, and I wanted to share my reaction when I heard you say that I am not a good team player. I felt upset and disappointed, because it’s important to me to make a valuable contribution to our process. I wondered if we could talk about what you are seeing and experiencing that led you to say that.
Here’s the thing — in the rare case where the person actually DID intend to disparage you, this response takes the wind right out of their sails and reveals you as … a team player! Taking the high road shows your true character, and allows the other party to gracefully step out of their petty moment while saving face. And that’s a win-win outcome.
Giving the benefit of the doubt opens doors. Assuming malicious intent closes them.
ps: If you are consistently assuming that people intend to hurt or harm you, and find it very difficult to give the benefit of the doubt, you might find that counseling can help you change that perception so you can inhabit a kinder world.
In the moment, you can say, “Thanks for sharing that with me. I will give it some consideration.”
Then, at your earliest convenience, do exactly that by asking yourself, “In what ways could this criticism of me be true?”
There’s very little anyone can accuse you of that won’t have at least a grain of truth to it.
And when you can identify that grain, tiny though it may be, you will also have found an opportunity.
Because once you see it, you can either work to change it or work to accept it and minimize the harm you cause to others because of it.
Who knows — someday you might even find yourself actively seeking and welcoming criticism because of the empowering insights it reveals!
Questions like, “Did you have a good day today?” or, “Did anything interesting happen today?” are likely to result in a simple yes or no answer.
Instead, try asking open questions — questions that cannot be answered with yes or no — like this:
“What interesting things happened today?”
“What was the funniest thing that happened today?”
Ask one of these questions, and then sit back, relax, and listen. Respond to your child’s answer with something minimal, like “Really!” or, “No kidding!” and then be quiet again. Your engaged, attentive silence will encourage your child to elaborate.
ps: Many parents find that a hearty snack is a very effective way to grease the wheels of after-school conversation. If you happen to be around when they arrive home, try sitting down and sharing a mini-meal with your children.