Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Family Communication

Own Your Feelings

This is a hard one that takes lots of practice to change. Our tendency is to react in the moment with emotion. In some situations that is totally appropriate; like laughing at a joke, smiling at a kindness, crying because of something sad, or hugging a friend. However, as a parent, sometimes our emotions are too strong and powerful and can be misinterpreted in many ways.

We also have a tendency to think that other people and situations are causing us to feel a certain way: "You make me so mad!", "You're making me crazy!", etc. The trouble is that our children start believing that they can control our emotions, and they may become manipulative. Even if they're not naturally manipulative, we're sending a message that people can't control their emotions, and that's a little scary.

Part of growing up is learning how to control our own emotions and express them appropriately. To
control your emotions you have to own them, you have to get rid of the belief that someone else is causing the way you feel. It is not easy, but there is a technique that can be helpful.

"I" Messages

Changing the way we speak can help to change our thoughts and feelings. While yelling or expressing frustration over the messy room or misbehavior, we usually send "you" messages which places blame on the person we are yelling at. This causes the other person to become defensive, hurt or angry in return. By changing the words around a bit we can reduce blame and control our own feelings, so we are expressing what is needed in the situation instead. Following are some examples:

Instead of: "Why can't you clean up your toys? You've made such a mess and I almost fell over this ____."

Try this: "I'm upset because I almost tripped over this toy, it's a little dangerous. Please clean up your toys now and next time don't leave them laying around where people can trip over them."

It may not seem like much difference saying things one way or another, but in the long run it will help both you and your family members to argue less, and develop compassion for one another. To use "I" Messages, or any type of rephrasing that reduces blame, you have to first be able to identify your own feelings. How did you feel when you almost twisted your ankle on the toy? Mad, upset, angry, frustrated?

I used the word upset because it is more general and less powerful than the other words. In this example I, as the parent, wanted to focus less on my feelings and more on the general danger to anyone in order to motivate the children to clean up their mess. In other situations your feelings may deserve more significance.
For example:

Instead of: "Stop that! You're so annoying, can't you give me a few minutes of peace?"

Try this: "Mommy's really tired and cranky right now, I had a hard day at work. Can you play quietly for a little while now? We'll do something fun together after dinner."

Identifying how you feel and the real source of those feelings helps you find the best way to deal with your own feelings, rather than dumping them on others. Dumping feelings and blaming escalates conflict and resentment, whereas communicating your feelings without blame increases understanding. If you are able to start doing this you will find your children will learn to do the same.

I was really surprised one night when I went into my daughters room to say goodnight, but I couldn't help mentioning that she had forgotten to clean up her room. Then she said to me, "Mommy, I feel frustrated when you tell me things like that after I'm in bed, because I'm tired now and it's too late to start cleaning up." She was only 8 years old but she was right. As the parent, I could have reminded her earlier or when I came into the bedroom I could have said, "It looks like you were having a lot of fun, let's make sure it get's cleaned up tomorrow."

Read more on using "I" Messages:

http://www.beyondintractability.org/bi-essay/I-messages

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-message#I-message_construction

7 comments:

  1. Such a positive way to address kids. Great advice.
    www.thoughtsofpaps.com

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  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm all for increasing positive relationships in the world!

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  3. I love this post, such a great message. I love what your daughter said!

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    1. Kid's are smarter than we think sometimes. Thank's for stopping by!

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  4. This is really great advice, not just for dealing with children, but within a marriage as well. Taking ownership of one's feelings with "I" statements helps to express yourself while not ratcheting up the level of conflict. Much less accusatory and more chance of keeping a discussion from escalating into argument. Thanks!

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    1. That is so true, it works in all relationships. Thanks for the nice comment.

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  5. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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