If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I just don’t know how to talk to them!” I would have so.many.nickels. This is a super common issue that brings folks to therapy. Since my work revolves around kids and parents, I will focus on that dynamic, but really, most communication skills can be generalized to other relationships. Let’s get communicating!
I don’t want to spend a lot of time communicating the importance of communication. You get it! When we communicate well, we feel closer to others, have more empathy, have greater knowledge and perspective, and feel more secure. When it’s not going well, we can feel frustrated by negative patterns and not know how to make it better. Seek out therapy if you believe it’s impacting you or your kiddo’s mood, behavior or daily life. If it feels fixable or you just need some ideas-here are five tips to help.
~ You gotta hear to listen. This means, you can’t half tune in to what someone else is saying and have good communication. Take away distractions. Use direct eye contact and shift your body towards the speaker. If you can’t fully focus at that moment, say “I want to make sure I’m listening. Let’s talk in 10 minutes after I’m finished doing this”.
~ Use active listening. There are a few components to this. There is paraphrasing what was said- “it sounds like you were mad when Tommy took your swing when you were playing on it”. Asking for clarification- “so you were hoping to get an invite to that party and now you feel sad, is that right?”. Expanding on what has been said- “tell me more about that”. Providing empathy- “it’s frustrating when things don’t go as planned”. Don’t interrupt, problem solve, or criticize. Just listen.
~ Try using “I statements” when addressing a problem. When people hear criticism they tend to shut down. Instead of saying something like “you didn’t take out the trash again, I’m so sick of this!”. Try- “I am upset that I have asked but the trash is still not taken out. I need the trash to be taken out right now”. State your own feelings and needs instead of criticizing or blaming.
~ Avoid these pitfalls: the always/never, evidence building, and catastrophic thinking. The always/never is making blanket statements that are likely not true, like “you never do anything I want to do”. Evidence building is bringing up stuff from the past “this is just like that time 2 months ago when you left dishes in the sink!”. Catastrophic thinking is assuming the worst based off one event
“if I let this go, it will just get worse”. None of these are helpful.
~Finally, set up regular times to discuss how things are going and to “check in”. This helps keeps communication consistent. Set aside time; in the car, on walks, on “parent/child” dates or family meetings. This sets a great example for your kiddos and will help everyone feel closer. To great conversations and close families!