Make directives positive

laughing in the gardenA simple thing to keep in mind as a parent in order to make communication more effective is to lead by listening and understanding, but when you need to direct your kids, try telling them what you would like them to do rather than focusing in on what you do not want them to do.

For example, “No more video games,” is not as constructive as, “Why don’t you do your reading now.”  Likewise, when siblings quarrel, “Stop fighting!” is not as useful as, “Please be kind” (or even, “let’s have a chance to hear what each of you are saying and feeling”).  I know that no words are magic spells that get our children to be happy, healthy and compassionate, but setting the example through positive words and behaviors, over time, has powerful influence over the general emotional climate in a household.

A corollary to making directives positive, is to comment on behaviors where needed, and not on character.  “Please take out the trash cans,” is entirely different from, “You’re lazy—you always leave your clothes on the floor.”  When children (and grown-ups) come to feel that their shortcomings are due to their core character, they tend to respond with vehement anger to any sort of criticism.  Thus the child doesn’t hear, “You’re a great kid, and I know you generally help clear the table, pick up your socks, remember your homework and I’m here to help you when you forget or struggle,” and instead they may hear, “You are lazy and stupid and I’m personally disappointed to have you as my kid.”  

Additionally, if a child is consistently struggling with anger, forgetfulness, avoidance, etc., we want to deepen our understanding about why.  Perhaps there is anxiety, depression or a learning difference at play in the mix, and a proper understanding of the symptoms might lead us to get them help tailored to their specific needs.  I’ve seen many kids show an overall change in demeanor and behavior once the underlying issues were accurately recognized and addressed.  When in doubt, trust that kids are doing the best they can.

Where a parent’s self-esteem is wobbly, it can be especially difficult to consistently and convincingly convey messages of trust, support and encouragement; thus the first place we must look when things are going off the rails with our parenting is at our own selves—particularly where we were at when we were the age our child is now.  We need to know that while we can all learn and grow, no one benefits from our feelings of shame and/or low self-esteem.

So, I encourage us all as parents to picture what we are trying to architect:  envision your child feeling good about themselves, behaving with kindness, appropriate curiosity, challenging us so as not to simply conform, but knowing that they are loved, treasured, wanted and respected.  Such “right thinking” will lead to “right actions” which, over time, can become character and ultimately destiny.  Let’s keep trying for this on behalf of our own kids, and in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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