Category: Better Communications

white board

I love my whiteboard. It’s hangs on the refrigerator in the kitchen, and is our family’s place for the running grocery list, the most critical to-dos, the place to find the daily schedule when things need to get done with a high degree of coordination. It’s where we can all Get On The Same Page.

I’ve recently added an additional smaller whiteboard that holds new lists: things for each of the kids to get done or remember. Of course I could have added these lists to the main whiteboard, but, well, there isn’t really room.

I am now loving this other whiteboard for different reasons. (Why did it take me so long to figure this out?) If there is a job in the house–or other things–for each kid to be responsible for (e.g. empty the dishwasher, return a permission slip, practice violin), there it is on their list! Every time they go to the fridge for a snack or a drink, there it is. A reminder! I feel disproportionately unburdened by this small white rectangle that allows me to not have to be the one who has to remember, remind, and yes, occasionally nag to get things done. –t

is my kid mean?

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 2.02.02 PMThe other day I watched as my son pitched a ball way too hard to his little sister. I felt the tension mount as I prepared to fling open the back door to yell at him once again for being too rough and inconsiderate of others.

As parents, we often see a negative behavior in our kids that sets off an alarm, a warning that can take us to a place of “that-may-just-be-who-he-is” kind of panic and despair. Oh no…he’s mean. He’s a rule breaker. He excludes kids. If he’s breaking the rules now, how bad is it going to be in a few years?  We may overreact to our children’s negative behaviors because we worry it’s a sign of things to come, a peek into tendencies that may only become more deeply entrenched as they get older.

In these difficult moments, remember that kids try things on. They experiment with different behavior as they figure out what is acceptable, what’s not, how people react, and how they feel–and are made to feel–about a situation.

Instead of simply calling out your kid’s transgressions, ask a few questions. Ask a question that demonstrates that you are giving him the benefit of the doubt. “Wow, you probably didn’t realize it, but you have gotten to be a pretty fast pitcher!” Introduce the other child’s feelings, and the impact his behavior might have had. “I don’t know about Kate, but it can be pretty nerve wracking for me to catch when I’m not expecting such a hard pitch…Kate, what do you think?” When you treat your child as a learning, developing being rather than a set of fixed characteristics, you operate within a framework that supports growth and change. Negative behaviors are an opportunity for teaching, for helping a child to see another’s perspective, and a chance to suggest another way.  –n

hi neighbor

fred rogersWhen I was growing up in Pittsburgh in the early 70s I watched a lot of Mr. Rogers. He was a local celebrity and lived just a few blocks away.  One weekend when I was in kindergarten, my dad and I were walking through a parking lot behind some stores in a busy shopping area.  I remember my dad, who was holding my hand, squeezed it and said, “Nina, do you see who that is?”  As I looked up, we were 3 feet from Mr. Rogers. I froze. And with no pause, in his exact TV voice, he said, “It’s funny sometimes, isn’t it, when we see people that we usually see on TV someplace where we don’t expect to see them?”

I’m sure he had many occasions to say just that to many different children. Even so, the simple thoughtfulness of his approach to me in that moment is something that has stayed with me into adulthood and illustrates fundamental ideas in nurturing the emotional intelligence of children: empathy and naming feelings.

First, Mr. Rogers spoke to me (not my dad), and in a slightly indirect manner so it wasn’t so confrontational or frightening. I didn’t feel put on the spot as his comment didn’t require a response. Second, he acknowledged my surprise, didn’t make me feel childish, embarrassed or small, and furthermore, with a simple “we” helped me to realize that it wasn’t only me – or children – who might feel awkward in such a situation. A memorable and instructive interaction to be sure… –n


stacking the deck

helping your children build empathyWhen I was in high school, a group of us were trying to get 2 of our friends together. A great guy and a great girl we all thought would make a great couple. So what did we do? Each of us at various times reported, very casually, things we had noticed about or heard from, one to the other: “Elizabeth was talking about the piece you submitted for the art show and how much she liked it.” “Adam came down to watch track practice — did you notice him over there?” “He totally lit up when you said that in class.” “She asked me if I’d come to your game with her.” All of it true, the meaning of each comment and gesture enhanced by having been noticed and reported to the other, and all of it in the spirit of helping encourage the relationship between these friends.

As a parent, I’ve used this same tactic to enhance the relationships in our family. In the family context, these casual, side-held “stacking the deck” comments help kids practice noticing each other’s efforts to care and support one another, and appreciate their intent. “Your sister got up early because she knew you were excited and wanted to be early for your field trip.” “I heard your brother telling his friend how much you helped him the other day.”

Stack further by suggesting a follow up: “Your brother was really careful with your markers you let him use and put them back right where he knows you keep them. I know he’d be happy if you mentioned it to him.” If someone took the time to return a borrowed item to the right place, helped by getting ready on their own, put someone else’s lunchbox or jacket near the door, asked for an extra piece of candy at the bank for their sib, or took care of someone else’s dirty dish, you can “stack the deck” and enhance the value of the gesture by helping the recipient of that kindness both see it and acknowledge it.

…And yes, Elizabeth and Adam did get together, thanks, in part, to their friends. -t

give them words

I have three kids. When my youngest was born, my middle child, who was 2, was often very grumpy. I had a strong suspicion that the arrival of a new baby was the source, but each time I raised it, he walked away or said, “that’s not it!” Finally, I approached him and said, “I know your sister needs a lot of my time right now. When you feel like you need some Mommy time, you just come over and say, ‘I need some Mommy time,’ and I’ll give it to you”. His expression didn’t change, he was still grumpy. Two days later, I was at the sink and I felt a tug on my pants. My son pulled me down and whispered in my ear, “I need some Mommy time.”

By giving them words, very specific words that they can use (not only generalizations of how they might feel), we can help our kids identify and articulate their needs. –n