Have you ever thought about how you respond to your kids? How we hurt our kids with our words, without even intending to?
What do you say when they ask you to watch them spin in circles again or revel in awe over yet another Lego creation.
If you are like us you probably respond with a quick, “Honey, that looks nice.” Or “Good sweatheart, but did you clean up the toys I asked you to clean”? While it may feel positive and supportive from our end, what we’re really doing is pacifying the kids with a quick quip.
I once read an article that Emily Esfahni Smith wrote in The Atlantic about relationships, she called it, Masters of Love. In it she explained how we respond to the questions our spouse makes and how those responses shape our spouses attitudes and feelings. The same is true for our kids.
Ways we hurt our kids.
…without meaning to.
According to Emily, there are four different ways that people respond to questions, I’m loosely paraphrasing from her here, to make it more directly applicable to moms with kids.
When my kids come to me to show me a new “trick” they learned, “Mom, watch this”. I have a choice to make.
I can respond in a passive destructive manner by ignoring or disregard the kids…
Or, I could respond in a passive constructive way, recognizing their good news, but in a half-hearted, not fully engaged way. A typical passive constructive response is saying Good Job, kiddo as I am reaching another level on Candy Crush (we’ve all been there)!
In the third kind of response, active destructive, in this response we lessen or take away from the good news or accomplishments that our kids want to tell us about: You made the team, well that is going to be really expensive?” or “If only you could put as much effort into your school work as you do your sports .
These three options are of course, the ones we want to be careful not to use when interacting with our kids. So what is that fourth choice? This is something simple to keep in mind so we can actively work on building our kids up.
How to talk and listen to kids
Our kids desperately need us to engage with them, to stop what we are doing and actively listen. They need us to be their cheerleaders when the world is against them.
When you find yourself distracted or frustrated with your child when they are trying to initiate a “talk” with you, here are just a couple things you can do:
Turn away from your distractions and touch your child. Touching during the conversation will help bring you “in” rather than out and show both your child and you that this conversation is the most important thing in that moment.
Another idea is to get on your kids level and look them in the eye. So often we tower over our kids and look down on them. Getting eye-to-eye shows that we respect them and truly care about their point of view.
Lastly, don’t clarify your praise. Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary. There are many appropriate times for correction, but work hard to celebrate their successes without bringing up their shortcomings.
It’s interesting that so much work is being done to help us understand relationships with other adults, but we often don’t take the time to apply it to the relationship that we deal with most often, the parent/child relationship. Thinking about how we hurt our kids unintentionally can do a lot to improve our relationship with them.
Which of these responses do you have most often? How are you going to work towards responding to your kids in a more constructive way?