When parents ask me how they can communicate more effectively, I ask them to think about two questions: one is, “In anything I say or do with my child, what do I hope to accomplish? Why am I saying and doing it?” The second question is vital, “Am I saying it or doing it in a way my child is most likely to hear me?”
Let’s say a child is not doing their work or is having trouble in school. The parent wants to motivate them, but let’s say the parent says, “If only you worked harder. If only you weren’t so lazy, you’d do better.” Well, that child is going to tune you out.
I always say to parents, “How would you feel if you’re having trouble as a parent and the child or someone else says to you, ‘You know why you’re having trouble? Because you’re just don’t try hard enough or you’re lazy.’” And I’ve had parents saying, “Oh my God, that doesn’t sound very good.” Well, that’s how your child is experiencing it.
So always keep in mind how your message is coming across. And another very important thing is – we must learn to validate what our kids are saying. Validation doesn’t mean you agree. It means you hear and understand.
And one example I have was a teenage girl at the first family therapy session who said she was depressed. And I know her mother was well-meaning, but her mother looked at the girl and said, “There’s no reason for you to be depressed. We live in a lovely home, we love you.” And the girl totally became silent afterwards, because no one wants to be told how they should feel. So I always tell parents, “Validate what your children are saying. It doesn’t mean you agree with them. Then they will be able to hear what you have to say.”