PARENTING ARTICLES : Make talking to your teen -- or anyone else -- easy by avoiding these common pitfalls.
By Dr.Maryann Rosenthal
Some means of communication are just plain wrong. They're incendiary and make any bad situation worse. Whatever you do, try to avoid these communication no-no's:
1. Blaming This involves using the accusatory you, as in "You are so lazy, you make me sick." Such a negative evaluation then becomes an issue when the real issue is that you want your kid to clean up her room. By blaming, you've escalated the dispute to something more than just an untidy room; now it's a character defect that's being debated. Instead, try "I feel..." and "I wish..." statements, such as, "I feel frustrated when I can't finish what I want to say," or, "I wish we could agree on what we're going to do, and then stick to it. Can we?"
"Stop acting stupid!" or "You're a jerk, you know that?" again takes the focus off the behaviour in question and elevates it to a personal attack. This is akin to throwing gasoline on a fire rather than trying to extinguish it.
3. Denying the importance of others' feelings
Parents too often say something like, "I know how you feel, but..." You may not know how your teen feels. Or maybe you really do, but by denying the teen the opportunity to state or restate his or her own feelings, you're presenting yourself as a know-it-all who doesn't want to listen and perhaps doesn't really care.
4. Using sarcasm
"That was really a smart thing to do...DUH!" This is demeaning and does little to further communication.
5. Getting off the track
"And, one more thing: you treated your sister badly at the picnic last year too." Or "And how 'bout that time you ruined that sweater of mine that you borrowed?" We can't correct all problems at once. Throwing too many issues and sore points into a discussion just ensures that none of them will be fully addressed.
6. Making crying an offense
"Don't start crying -- or I'll give you something to cry about," parents often say. But crying is a valid response to some situations. A teen who cries in front of a parent is exposing his or her vulnerability. That's not easy for either party, so respect your teen's loss.
7. Preaching or moralizing
Using "shoulds" and "oughts" in talking with a teen is like brandishing a cross in front of a vampire; it stops the dialogue in its tracks. Instead, try teaching, not preaching.
A common parental failing, issuing commands ("Clean your room," Get dressed," "Get up on time, for once") becomes a habit. So does ignoring them.
Like sarcasm, teasing or making fun of your kid devalues the child. Of course, there's nothing wrong with poking a little fun at human foibles, whether adult or adolescent. But when it becomes habitual and/or cruel, teasing closes down the avenues of communication. At such times teasing becomes the problem instead of helping to solve it.
10. "Overcatastrophizing" Keep that up and you're going to be a homeless person living in a cardboard box," or "You can't do one single thing right in your whole life." Sure, you exaggerate for effect. But it stings and impedes problem solving.
Excerpted from Be a Parent, Not a Pushover by Maryann Rosenthal. Copyright 2006 by Maryann Rosenthal. Excerpted by permission of Nelson Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Dr. Maryann Rosenthal is a highly respected clinical psychologist on family dynamics and best selling author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover, recently selected as a book of the year on effective parenting. She is a featured authority on regional and national television and a global keynote speaker. She co-authored with Denis Waitley, the new family leadership program, The Seeds of Greatness System taught worldwide. Maryann lives in southern California with her husband and their blended family of seven children and six grandchildren (and counting).
© 2004 by Dr. Maryann Rosenthal. Permission to reprint if left intact.