Monday, June 25, 2012

Family Communication

Who Did That?

I heard a dad direct this question toward 3 kids the other day while I was in the grocery store. I don't know what happened because I was just passing by, but it reminded me of this all too common tendency we parents have of trying to identify the guilty party so we can assign punishment. It seems like that is our first reaction - to find out who did it - and the only way many parents know how to deal with a situation.

Trying to solve a problem with a phrase like "who did that?" puts everyone on the defensive. We put ourselves in the position of a judge
and jury, and the kids become the defendant or witnesses trying to plead their innocence or excuses, or blame each other. It might make for good TV, but not for good relationships.

Leave Out Who, Focus On What

There are other ways to deal with problems, accidents and misbehavior that might be more effective in helping our children learn and grow. The first thing is to forget about "who", and instead focus on what the problem is and how it can be resolved. For example, let's say the dad heard glass crash on the floor and when he turned around he saw all 3 kids in close proximity to a broken bottle of sauce splattered across the aisle. It's a mess, but it wont do any good to identify who caused it because they wont be able to clean it up anyway. Treat it the same way you would if you were shopping alone and accidently knocked a bottle off the shelf; report it to the store management or staff so they can clean it up, and add an apology at the same time. By handling the situation this way you are modeling responsible behavior for your kids, helping them understand that we all make mistakes and there is an appropriate way to deal with the situation.

See Beyond Why

Forgetting about "who" and "why" can also be an effective way of dealing with kids when they are fighting with each other. Our tendency is to identify who started it and why they are fighting, but once again this puts everyone in a defensive and blaming mode of communication which can result in more arguing and tears. If you were not a direct witness of what caused the fight it can be very difficult to get to the truth of the matter because each person has their point of view which is very true to them.

It really doesn't matter who started it, why it's happening or what the fight is about anyway. What matters is that your children learn how to resolve their differences without hurting each other. You can stop the fight and then ask them both a question, "Is hurting each other going to solve your problem?" Send them each to their rooms with an assignment to figure out a different way to resolve their conflict while respecting each other.

Teach, Don't Preach

I guess the reason we parent like judges is because for generations parents have been using blame, shame and guilt to control behavior, and to some degree this has worked.  However, too much blame, shame and guilt can incite resentment, anger and rebellion, which is definitely not the goal of most parents. Rather than preaching about the "rights" and "wrongs" and pointing out wrong-doers, parents would do better to learn how to be the most effective educators by making the most of teachable moments. As in the examples above, for many situations we can shift our communication away from what causes blame, shame and guilt and focus instead on what will help the child grow and mature.

Learning to communicate and parent differently than previous generations takes time and practice. I highly recommend reading as much as you can on communication methods that benefit relationships, because parenting is also a learning and growing process. Learning and growing in love.

Have you found this helpful? I'm always interested in hearing from my readers so please feel free to leave your comments.


  1. With 4 kids, I find myself saying this all the time. I never, however, take them to the store. I go at night after they go to bed!

  2. That's a smart thing to do, I also tried to do that whenever it was possible, along with avoiding problems it also gives you a break.


I love comments and I'll do my best to respond to them all.