Have you even been in a situation where you told your kids what to do, and instead of obeying, they kept the discussion going why they shouldn’t do it?
I often hear parents tell their children something like: “Put on your scarf and your gloves please.” When their child asks: “Why?” The parent responds: “Because it’s cold!” If the child is not feeling cold, this simple remark may be the start of an ongoing discussion: “I don’t think it’s cold” “It IS cold!” “No, it’s NOT!’ …
I know for sure that many parents are unaware of the fact that what is making them say these words to their child is the fact that they themselves are feeling cold!
In this case, their own sensation (feeling cold) and the assumed sensation of the child (feeling cold) are mixed up. This confuses the child, resulting in the child starting the discussion: “It’s not cold at all. What do you mean? In fact, I’m HOT!”
Many people do not make such clear distinctions between their own sensation and other people’s sensation in their communication. And this, I can tell you, often causes confusion, frustration, or miscommunication. In this article, we will talk about the only two communication skills that you will ever need as a parent and why you should use them as much as possible.
Our first language is what I call ME-language, a language in which you talk about yourself, your personal perspective, your own ideas, your beliefs, your feelings, your desires, your needs, and your interpretation of the world.
Let’s give you some examples:
“I feel wonderful today now that I have slept well!”
“I really love that shade of red.”
“Thank you for reading your book without saying anything, now I have been able to finish my work, I feel so relieved!”
Instead of saying: “You have been a very naughty child!” try saying: “My flowers have been flattened by your bike. Now I am very sad!”
One can say, there are numerous advantages of using ME-language:
I-messages are transparent and clear. There is no confusion about whose sensations are being mentioned.
Others will show less resistance to my message. After all, my message is all about me.
Others feel more comfortable because I’m not judging them.
It’s hard to ignore ME-language. It appeals to the human, empathetic side of children.
I don’t have to play a role. I simply have to be ‘me’.
I get to know myself better. I can honestly say that after using ME-language for quite some years, I still get surprised sometimes, when I’m using ME-language. I then realize why I’m acting the way I do, because I’m forced into verbalizing my needs, beliefs, or feelings.
My child gets to know me better. I can tell you, your child WANTS to know you. Make no mistake about that. Children LOVE to see their parents for who they are, regardless of what they tell you.
My message is congruent. My inner state matches my outer verbal message.
Will help my child to understand me and in the long run, this can be very helpful!
When I express my needs, it will be easier to get help and support.
Assertive, not passive or aggressive, I take responsibility for my own needs. I’m not playing the victim role!
ME-language is an effective way to avoid misunderstanding and conflicts.
ME-language helps to build trust and solidarity.
Your child will always be able to keep his or her dignity.
The independence of my child is being encouraged. After all, it’s up to my child if he wants to help AND how!
ME-language is not detrimental to the parent-child relationship.
ME-language does not contain a judgment. Therefore it accepts my child for who he is.
My child will develop a positive self-image. Remember that a self-image is developed by the things children hear from people around them. It is not something the child was born with!
So instead of saying: “You have done a great job!” try saying: “You finished your homework, now I feel relaxed because I don’t have to worry anymore.”
You can use ME-language for both positive or happy and negative or unhappy messages! Remember when you are using unhappy ME-language, chances are that your child will show resistance, because in general people will not get pleased hearing messages like that. You may encounter resistance in different ways, like walking away, silencing, making funny faces or slamming doors. If you cannot accept resistance, remember that things will escalate between you and your child, because the both of you will build up anger. If you want to avoid escalations, I urge you to keep reading, as I will now cover the second skill you need to master. This skill will also allow you to handle resistance!
As I have told you, ME-language is our basic language. It communicates our personal perspective. At the same time, we will definitely use YOU-language as well. We want to use YOU-language when we want to connect with our child.
Where ME-language is mainly one direction, from me to me or from me to the world, connecting to others means that we now want a two-way stream of communication.
This is the case when:
We want to check if what we think, see or assume is right.
We want to share our feeling.
We are in conflict, to reconnect with our child.
We want to help our child, specifically when heavy emotions are involved.
Any other situation in which we want to connect with our child!
In all situations, our main goal of YOU-language is to connect with our child!
In his book Parent Effectiveness Training, the author, Thomas Gordon, talks about several things that most people normally do when they want to connect to others. He calls them ‘communication stops’, because they normally hinder the other person from participating in the conversation.
Most people will use one or more of the following strategies in an attempt to make a connection:
Unfortunately, these strategies are usually not effective at all.
The trouble with these strategies is that they:
Hinder or stop the child from talking at all.
Offer ready-made solutions.
Ignore the child’s feelings.
Take away the child’s responsibility.
Imply non-acceptance of the child.
Imply a wish to change the child.
All of these lead to the same thing: The child not wanting to connect to you!
The effective solution is YOU-language! YOU-language is a language in which it’s all about your child. In a specific way, YOU-language means:
Never give your personal opinion, judgment or advice.
Instead, name needs and feelings of your child that you hear behind the words!
So, how does that work?
In the following example I want to connect with my child because I want to find out what is bothering her. I’m not giving my personal opinion, judgment or advice because my child will stop communicating once I start doing that.
So when my child says: “That sweater is stupid! I’m not gonna wear it!”
Instead of saying: “What’s the matter with that sweater?”
I may say: “You don’t like the sweater?” Then the child may respond: “You bet I don’t like it! I look like a giraffe when I wear it.” Instead of saying: “Now you’re exaggerating, that’s not true at all!” I may respond: “You hate looking like a giraffe?”
Notice that in a way, I’m putting words into the mouth of my child! Don’t worry about that. Whether you have done that correctly or not, your child WILL let you know! In this case, I was right. In other cases, your child may have said: “No! It’s not that I hate looking like one. I simply hate it when my classmates call me a giraffe and make fun of me!”
So, at all times, please check with your child about whether you have understood the right message!
If you want to know why children will talk to people who use YOU-language, listen to this list of advantages:
You don’t judge, therefore your child feels accepted for who he is.
Your child feels understood, because you named their feelings, beliefs or needs.
Your child feels comfortable, because you take the time for her alone. It’s all about your child.
You will understand the child because you’re aware of their feelings, needs, or beliefs.
You will grow towards one another.
Your child will be able to solve his own problems because you helped your child process the emotions.
Your child’s needs and feelings are heard and understood. Therefore, your child will become aware of other people’s needs and feelings and will behave accordingly.
Allow your child to find her own solutions. This will make her self-assured, and help her to mature. Trust that your child is able to cope with his feelings and find his own solutions. Don’t keep your child dependent on you by offering solutions so that he will not learn to think of his own solutions.
By using YOU-language, you help the child release tension from intense emotions. But beware that, at first, the tension may come out fiercely, as if you lift the lid from a cooking pan. Don’t get scared when this happens. Your child’s intense emotions will soon start to calm down.