Is There Anything I Should Avoid When I Know My Child is Unhappy?
When you detect that your child is not happy, there are some ways of talking that should be avoided. These are called “roadblocks”, because they can block effective communication. Below is an outline of these ineffective responses. It might be useful to think about the way you feel when any of these responses are used on you, when you talk about a problem.
Solutions include giving advice, lecturing, ordering, threatening, and moralising. If we give any of these responses to our children when they are unhappy, they are very likely to “turn off”, and to stop talking. It’s as though we’re telling them that we don’t trust them to be able to help themselves. Telling children OUR solutions to THEIR problems can be disempowering.
This is when we criticise, use put-downs, call children names (such as “idiot” or “cry-baby”), blame them or ridicule them. Children will not feel good about themselves – and they won’t think much of us, either.
When we reassure, console, sympathise or agree, we may (unintentionally) be denying the child’s feelings and experience. For example, if a child fell down, scraped her knee and began to cry, a parent may say, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt much, you’ll get better soon”. In fact, the child’s knee IS hurting, and she may feel confused and misunderstood. We have discounted her experience. Active listening – “your knee really hurts” – can actually soothe the pain, and stop the tears.
When we ask questions, we can stop children talking. It may seem like we are gathering data, so that we can solve things for them (this is disempowering for the child). Questions can divert the child from their real problem, whereas active listening goes with the child, and does not lead. If you ask a question, ask yourself “why do I want to know? Is it to meet my needs, or that of my child?” Often, we ask questions because WE want to know, not because it is best for the child.
We may use tactics like humour, sarcasm, distraction, withdrawing, or changing the subject, in order to divert the child, or avoid discussing the child’s issue. The child may then feel that we regard his problem as unimportant, or that the parent does not care.