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Making positive change

February 1, 2017
Melissa Marote , MOV Parent

When a new year begins, we often promise to make positive changes for ourselves. Most, if not all of us have done something as parents that we quickly regret. There have been times when I've raised my voice in anger or not been fully present when my 4-year-old wants to explain the details of a drawing she made or a dream she had.

Before I had children, I used to feel so sorry for the little ones standing in the grocery line with mothers who seemed adrift in their own thoughts, completely ignoring the questions or comments their child was asking. I vowed to never be that mother, or the one who would yell at their child, but here I am. We never realize how much energy and patience it takes to be a parent until we have accepted the job one that required no interview, test or license.

I've decided to work on being more patient and more present with my daughters. I recently stumbled across a book from 1970 called "Parent Effectiveness Training" by Dr. Thomas Gordon. I find myself laughing aloud at some of the dated vocabulary, but the messages ring true today. One of the main points of the book involves the importance of letting children know you are hearing and understanding them. Taking the time to reflect back to your child what they just said in your own words lets them know you listened and are at least trying to understand.

For example, a child is refusing to go to bed and the mother is getting very frustrated and telling the child how important it is to sleep, and that they do not need to be afraid of the dark, etc. The child continues to cry and no one is making any headway. If the mother takes the time to say to the child, "You are very sad and don't want to sleep" the child has an opportunity to continue the conversation and maybe even correct her if her observation is wrong. The child then says, "I'm not sad, I'm scared!" The mother might say, "You're afraid of the dark and that makes you feel unsafe." The child might then say, "I'm not afraid of the dark. I'm afraid if I fall asleep, my body might not remember to breathe on its own." Now the mother understands and can explain that the body knows how to breathe without the child's efforts. The tears are gone and sleep ensues. The child felt understood and the mother less confused and angry.

Taking the time to use active listening is a great way to reduce frustration. It helps everyone understand each other and feel heard and important. But one has to truly want to hear and be able to accept what the child or teen says without adding criticism (which shuts down any opportunity for future sharing from your child.) Pairing active listening with "I messages" helps increase the healthy and open communication. For example, if your child is refusing to pick up her mess because her favorite show is on, you can use active listening until you're blue in the face and it won't make the mess clean itself. You could easily say, "You are angry about having to pick up your mess and would rather watch your show." That might make the child feel understood, but what about you? What about the mess? Using an "I message" can help. "I feel very frustrated that this mess is here because I have a friend coming over and want the floor clear so no one steps on these toys." The child understands how you feel. Hopefully she will pick up her mess now that she understands why it must be done now, rather than later.

Active listening and "I messages" doesn't solve all problems all of the time, but it certainly opens up the lines of communication and allows each party to feel heard and understood. It is a great way to reduce frustration so the chances of raising a voice in anger are decreased, and gives the opportunity to be more present and focused on your children. I highly recommend checking out books that focus on parenting. We can all use a little guidance in the New Year to make it a wonderful one for our family and ourselves.

Melissa Marote is a licensed professional clinical counselor and received her doctorate in counselor education from Ohio University.

 
 

 

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