Resolving issues is one of the more challenging things for parents and children to do. We form communication habits and patterns when we have little children age 1 to 4. We then forget to adjust our view and communication strategies as they advance in age, this makes it really hard to communicate.
The result, children age 8 to 10 tell me they are afraid to be honest with their parents. Which also leads children to start the process of leading a dual life* because of the fear (“children living a dual life” a whole module addresses this in Revive Family’s Influential Parenting). This fear stems from five primary sources.
- The one-way communication we learned and became a habit when our kids were little.
- The fact that we often do not allow our kids to have a different perspective than us.
- That in their eyes, we get upset with them over little things.
- We punish them to reinforce our disappointment with their mistakes and failures, so they will not do it again. This creates a fear of being honest and forthright about their failures and the hurts that they may have against us.
- The parents continue “babying” their child and put them and thus we do not adjust our approach as parents to align with their growing abilities.
These things can cause children to fear being honest with their parents. They are convinced that we will NOT listen, hear or take time to understand their perspective, so why even try. They say to me, “It will just end up with my parent being upset with me or telling me I am wrong.”
When coaching parents and adolescents, I frequently find unresolved issues clouding how parents see their children and how children view their parents. The impact of this on our children’s attitudes, behavior, and motivation should not be underestimated.
Parents often see certain behaviors in their child as the problem, such as a lack of respect, not listening, and even laziness. Shockingly, the examples given are just symptoms rather than the problem. Yet, we are trained to address these things head on. When parents do not understand they are seeing a symptom and attempt to address it from a traditional parenting perspective, they miss targeting the underlying disease that puts a break in the relationship. While our child may appear to be fine in the relationship they often are stuffing their real feelings or acting the part they feel they need in order to please us. The result is children become more sensitive, defensive, overreact, hide in their rooms or become angry. I have witnessed first hand the downhill spiral that can result from parents addressing the surface symptoms and drawing conclusions based upon those indicators alone.
Parents see the defensiveness, reactions, lack of listening and respect, and then target it leaving the child more distant, frustrated, and feeling like they are always wrong. Often the children do not even understand why they are so defensive and reacting because they have become to good at stuffing their feelings. The result, children feel even more frustrated, distant, and hurt. In turn, they lose the sense they can please their parent and their motivation wanes in numerous ways.
The parent is often blinded, missing the mark completely with understanding their child by still viewing them as a baby. The start of the child’s life set special patterns and connections with their parents. For the first four years the child is clinging to the parent for their every need. It is no wonder us as parents treat our children the same when they get older because the tracks are already laid.
This is the reason developing a resolution process, which is sharing, listening, and understanding each other’s feelings is so critical. Beginning around age five and definitely as our children approach the beginning of adolescence around age 8 is vital to have a two way resolution process in place. A healthy resolution process allows both sides of a situation to share their perspective and feelings.
Often it is hard for parents to encourage their children to share their real feelings associated with the well-intentioned messages we send, but are taken very differently by our children. Our parents did not model this type of interaction, which led to some of our frustration and hurt as children, and likely resulted in some if not many poor decisions that we made as youth.
As we look at components of a resolution process it involves more listening, less telling and more discovery and self-discovery for our children.
- Reassuring them we will listen and seek to understand their perspective.
- If mistakes have been made already in terms of anger or harsh words, start with an apology, this will often result in one being offered to back to us.
- Asking questions of our children related to the situation we are concerned with.
- Listening to their thought process and asking how the decision, situation, or failure could impact them, their motivation, or future.
- Asking how they think we feel about it and why?
- Allowing them to process and come back with a plan or answer.
When I take the time to understand my children’s thought process and reasoning I often find that it is sound and more realistic than I expected. When we stay in a one-way communication model where we tell and they do, we are locked into a system developed when our children are ages 2 to 4. This one-way approach conditions our kids to not think for themselves, wait for us to push them or make them do things and leads to frustration. Frustration almost guarantees mistakes in communication that lead to hurt. If we do not help our children express this hurt with us, they will grow distant and their attitude towards the family and us will sour.
Digging around in our children to uncover and resolve this hurt takes, relationship, patience, trust, open communication and an understanding ear. It is important if we believe our child is carrying unresolved hurt, frustration or anger with us that we do our very best to place ourselves in their shoes and see things through their eyes. To do this we need to cast off the conclusions we have reached, that they do not listen, do not understand, are lazy, or disrespectful. If we continue to believe these things we will interpret what they share with us through this grid, distorting our ability to truly understand our children, their frustration, and hurt.
When we really begin to listen to our children we may find that the reason they are not listening to us is that we have not been listening to and understanding them.