Here’s an excerpt from a textbook. It’s about a parent who is not in synch with his or her child:

“Such a parent would have moments of intrusiveness that appeared to be emotional invasions into the infant’s state of mind. These were generally not hostile in nature; a parent might suddenly grab a happliy playing child and shower him with excited hugs and kisses without warning, disrupting the child’s focus of attention and state of mind. That is, the parent would try to be connected, but in a way that was not contingent to the child’s communication.”

#1- How To Get In Synch

The parent is not on the same page. Yes, parents have to move over to their child’s page, not the other way around, starting in infancy. Parents who have no history of being treated with any sensitivity at all will have a hard time with this. But–here’s the clincher–giving up is not an option! That’s one more job of a parent. Here is how to practice getting more and more able to “read” what page someone is on (You can do this with adults or children; doesn’t matter):

Step 1: Guess what they’re thinking/experiencing at the moment and explain to yourself why you think so.

Step 2: Check it out with the person. In a very casual way, just say, “You know, I want to be a more aware person. I’m trying to understand you a little better, so I hope you’ll help me. What I’m trying to do now is guess how you feel and why. Can I run by you what I came up with?”

Step 3: Be openminded about the answers you get. In other words, if you were way off, don’t go crawl into a corner and say, “Oh, I’ll never get this.” Just write down in a special notebook reserved for this purpose (or talk into a tape recorder) their explanation and what you missed in your thinking the first time. Let the correct answer sink in so that you truly understand where that person came from.

Step 4: Try out your new learnings slowly. As you begin to “get it,” don’t assume you always will. Take slow steps in implementing anything. Think ten times before you react. In the story quoted from Ainsworth, above, if that parent had just slowed down before the hugs and kisses, the problem wouldn’t have occurred. Ask yourself: What would that child like from me by way of response right now? And focus on the child’s perspective. In the Ainsworth case above, that parent was actually selfish. He or she was in the mood to bestow hugs and kisses, but was the child in the mood to get them? Well, if the child is concentrating, then the answer is clearly, “No.” Would you like to be interruped by your child when you’re working on that important project for work? No. Well, the child, even a new infant, doesn’t either. The best thing that parent could have done above, is just be there silently, taking in the world as the baby sees it. This, by the way, is a thrill for a parent, once you stop and make that switch to seeing the world from the child’s perspective. You notice how the baby is fascinated by what we take for granted and it renews our sense of wonder at the Universe. Try it.

Another aspect to talking with your child is sharing the wisdom of your experience. This is for a little older children. Children absolutely hate this, yet it is so important for their development for some of the messages we have to get through. How do you manage? First off, you understand that the reason why they hate it is twofold, partly because they can’t relate to it since they haven’t been there, so it has no meaning to them, and partly because it has a faint ring to it of being superior–which makes them feel put down.

#2 -3 Ways To Open Up A Conversation

The next point, then, is that handling this requires tact (again), slow moves, and subtle ones. Never, ever lecture. They will tune you out and you’ll have accomplished nothing except drive a wedge between the two of you, something you don’t want. The child will, however, be very receptive if you have followed Gottman’s 5-to-1 rule of giving five positives for every negative comment at a minimum. I would guess that the degree of receptiveness is directly proportional to the ratio of positive-to-negative comments. So, if you only give one negative comment in a week and it is stated very tactfully, it will probably be gracefully accepted by your child and he or she will be receptive to your “editorials” on his life.

One approach is to ask questions without making assumptions. (You know what happens to people who assume, right?) Just ask open-ended questions, such as, “What did you think of — ?” or “How are you finding 10th grade?” Be pleasant and inviting. If you have cut out the criticisms and the negatives, this shouldn’t be too hard and should get good results.

Another approach is to make your comments (if you must make comments) very low key. For example, there’s a friend you don’t care for too much. You could say, “You’re going to the movie with Patricia?” Then kind of raise your eyebrows a little, as if to say, “Hmmmm.” That should be enough. Don’t actually say anything. Let the concern just hang there. Your communication will make your child just nervous enough to be paying closer attention to all the things about Patricia that your child doesn’t in her.

These cases are all for long before things have gotten out of hand. This is about starting off right. What if you started off wrong and now you want to repair that? It is possible!

#3 – How To Mend Fences

You should be forthright. Arrange ahead of time a stretch of time to talk. That’s right, I’m saying make an appointment with your child. Why? First, because it is respectful of his time which teaches him to be respectful of yours and it demonstrates your new, respectful approach. Second, it clears a block of time so that things can get done. And, third, it gets him thinking ahead of time about what the topic might be. You’ll get much more interest and attention that way. When you do talk, admit you have been insensitive or whatever it was and tell the child you are earnestly working on changing and being a better parent. That means you may still give punishments (when deserved) but will also try to be a better listener, more present, kinder, etc. Apologize for hurting your child in the past. The only way he or she will understand what not to do is if you label those things that you’ve done wrong as wrong. Then, create a team spirit. Tell him or her you want to work together and would appreciate feedback. When you get that feedback, accept it graciously. Of course, that opens the door for you to–graciously–give feedback as well.

#4 – How To Invoke The Rules

What if the child really messed up and you have to invoke “the rules”? The rules should have been made up ahead of time, not when there’s already trouble. After all, how will the child know what is a violation if they are never laid out? Further, the consequences should have been made clear at the time the rules were made. Always deliver your message calmly and respectfully even when you’re saying that you totally disapproved of the behavior. Ask the child if he or she knows what they did wrong. Help him or her to fine-tune the answer. This is very important. Ask, again, if the child understands what the consequence for such an infraction is, and let him answer. All of this creates self-discipline in the child. Asking a question is like throwing the ball to your team and now they have to make the most of that opportunity; it’s in their court.

#5 – Stay Positive – Be Happy

Concluding this section, what do you notice that is missing? What’s missing is fun communication, just play, positive. Not necessarily compliments, just being happy together, sharing time together, joking around, playing, shopping, whatever, having fun. That, my friends, is the most important piece of all.

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