Making your message heard
You can reduce the number of power struggles that you experience by learning how to communicate effectively with your child. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Do a sound check first. Make sure that you have your child’s undivided attention before you make a request or start issuing instructions. Barking out orders from the next room doesn’t cut it. Not only do you increase the odds that you’ll be ignored, but by communicating in a less-than-respectful manner, you undercut your credibility as a parent.
- Use eye contact to your advantage. Get in the habit of establishing eye contact with your child before you communicate an important message. It’s much more difficult for your child to tune you out (or, alternatively, to claim after the fact that she didn’t hear what you were saying!) if you’re looking her straight in the eye the entire time you’re speaking. You can also pick up some immediate cues about whether or not your message is sinking in and/or likely to meet with some hefty resistance. (Hint: Heavy-duty eyerolling is seldom a positive sign!)
- Keep your instructions simple and to the point. If your child is very young or your message is quite complex and you’re concerned that your child may not necessarily have grasped all the important details, ask your child to summarize what you’ve said. If your child is missing some key points, you’ll know you need to go over some of those points again.
- Don’t get in the habit of turning statements into questions. You undercut your parenting credibility by routinely tagging “Okay?” on to the end of each instruction you give your child. By doing so, you turn each statement into a question. If you say, “It’s bedtime, okay?” you’re basically asking your child’s permission to send her to bed! • Watch out for the “why trap.” Although there’s nothing wrong with providing your child with a simple explanation for a particular parenting decision, you want to be wary of being lured into a “why trap.” Although you may think that you will eventually get buy-in from your child if you take the time to explain your reasoning at length, you’re losing sight of your child’s motivation in initiating this discussion. She isn’t interested in finding out why you vetoed her co-ed sleepover party plans; she’s hoping to find a flaw in your logic and/or to wear you down so that you’ll have little choice but to overturn that veto. Yes, Mom and Dad, sometimes too much information can be a bad thing! • Pay attention to your body language. Make sure that your body language reinforces rather than undercuts the meaning of your words. If you come across as apologetic rather than confident in your parenting decisions, you’re likely to sacrifice a lot of your credibility as a parent and leave the door open to repeated power struggles. • Be respectful and polite. Don’t make the mistake of adopting a bullying tone in the hope that doing so will make you come across as a more confident parent and help to discourage power struggles. Not only will you score more points with your child by being respectful and polite but you’ll also model the very types of behaviors that you hope to see in your child.
- Write notes or use pictures to communicate important reminders. If your child complains that you’re always nagging her about something, you may want to use notes, charts, checklists, or (for children who are too young to read) pictures to remind your child about important tasks that need to be done. (Granted, “always” may mean that you asked your child to pick up her wet towel once, but, hey, why not work with her on this one and go to a nonverbal system of “nagging?” Not only will you save her the aggravation of hearing you issue the wet towel reminder every time she steps out of the shower, but you’ll also save yourself the aggravation of having to repeat yourself ad nauseum.) See Chapter 5 for more on this important technique.
- Come up with a family rule book — literally. If there’s on-going disagreement about your family rules, put those rules in writing and post them in a place where everyone can re-read them on a regular basis, such as on the refrigerator door. This can eliminate the need to constantly rehash the rules—an exercise in frustration for all concerned— while helping to encourage consistency.
- Refuse to get into a shouting match with your child. If your child starts shouting at you because she’s not getting her way, respond in a calm, quiet voice. This may be enough to encourage your child to regain control over her own emotions. If she continues shouting, let her know that you’re not interested in continuing the conversation while she’s acting that way and that you’re ending the conversation until she regains control over her emotions.