Friday, October 8, 2010
The Feelings Behind the Words
One of the most helpful suggestions in the Redirecting Children’s Behavior™ course is to look for the feelings behind a child’s words and actions. When discovering and understanding the feelings are your top priority, it is easier to separate the “deed” from the “doer” so that your response is helpful, calm and non-reactive even when your child may be out of control. Your response is directed towards your child learning a different way of doing what he is doing rather than becoming a statement about his character. Your response honors your relationship.
Two triggers that can quickly escalate a conversation into an argument are “never” and “always”. The use of either of those words, particularly if they are describing someone else’s behavior – “You never clean up your room” – do not solve problems. Imagine a scenario in which you’ve said “no” to a request from your daughter to spend the night at a friend’s house. She responds angrily, “You never let me go anywhere!” If you were to quickly react, you might become defensive, seeking to provide evidence of how that isn’t true. You might prove how wrong she is by tossing out all of the times that you said “yes” to her requests. The interaction could easily become a heated power struggle with you thinking she is ungrateful for what you do and your daughter feeling like you do not understand her.
Instead, look for her feelings behind her words. She is striking out because she is disappointed and angry. Looking at her feelings behind her words allows you to respond lovingly and effectively. Your response can then be, “You sound very disappointed. You must have really wanted to spend the night at Lisa’s house.” That will not be the end of the conversation, and it can be the end of the power struggle.
The same holds true for “always.” Imagine that your child says, “You always tell me what to do. You are not the boss of me!” If you look at the feelings behind the words, you will see a classic power struggle in which your child is proving that you are not the boss of him. He may be feeling powerless or over-powered. Your response can then be, “You are right! I am not the boss of you. You are the boss of you.” Again, that will not be the end of the conversation, and it can be the end of the power struggle.