April 2010
Issue No. 18
The Dance of Communication

dancing family

Welcome to another issue of the Solutions in Parenting Newsletter!

With summer here, many families are spending more time together, juggling different schedules, taking vacations, and hopefully having fun. They may also be experiencing some of the challenges that come with increased "together time." In order to keep things running smoothly, clear and effective communication is a must.

Sometimes we feel it's important to go back and address one of the most basic and important concepts in parenting: Communication. Most of the challenges we help families through, from discipline to co-parenting, have to do with mastering a set of basic communication skills which allow the participants to feel heard, understood, and able to express their feelings freely.

Effective communication is much like a dance where one person is leading (the "talker") and the other person is following (the "listener"). Each one following different, yet totally in-sync dance steps. Knowing when and how to either lead or follow, can calm a tantruming toddler as well as help to connect with a defiant teen.

One of the important things to remember is that you, as the parent, are the experienced dance teacher and your child is the student. You are the one who will assess the situation, understand the experience level of your student, and teach the appropriate dance steps for that level. You will lead that dancer through all of the steps so eventually, he can be experienced enough to be the teacher to his own student one day. For many, this can feel like a daunting task; especially if you, yourself, have never been taught  how to dance!

This performance requires learning a few specific  steps in order to allow your dancer the opportunity to practice proper form and order. There will be times when you will need to be the leader, and other times when your child needs to be the leader and you follow. Knowing how to balance your position between the leader and the follower, takes some finesse and lots and lots of practice.

In this issue, we will be your dance instructor, and teach you the three most important steps you need to know in order to master the dance of communication. In turn, you can utilize these powerful communication steps, to help teach and support your young dancers all the while increasing the levels of connection and peace in your household this summer.

May we have this dance?

dance steps

Three Essential Tips for Mastering the Dance of Communication

1. Understand your partner. Knowing with whom you are communicating can make the difference between a successful conversation and a disastrous one. Whether it is your young child or your teen, understanding where your child is developmentally is critical. People's brains are not completely formed, neurologically speaking, until they are in their early to mid-twenties. The critical thinking/logic centers are still being overridden by the emotion centers in the brain. If your child is having a tantrum or your teen is raging, expecting them to calm down and talk to you is usually an unrealistic request. They need time to emote and cool down before they can engage in a dance with you. This is the perfect time to sit this dance out, until your partner is ready to re-engage (some experts recommend allowing at least 45 minutes for this cooling down to happen). You may just find that allowing space and time between certain behaviors and moods you see from your kids, and a conversation, can give you time to choreograph the next steps to take in your dance of communication.

2. Listen to the Beat. A very important skill in mastering this dance of communication, is the art of active listening. This can be so much more difficult than it sounds because when we listen, we are having our own internal reactions to what is being said. Your job as the leaders is to hold onto your own thoughts and reactions, and let your followers tell you what they need to say. In this case, you will be the "listeners" (followers) and your child will be the "talkers" (leaders). For example, if your child has a problem, it can be extremely helpful to "verbally mirror" what you hear your child saying to you. This way, she will know that you have heard her.

For example, if before a baseball game, your child is upset, stalling, or otherwise uneasy and he says,
 " You ALWAYS make me do things I don't want to do!"
Instead of reacting and saying,
"I do not! You wanted to sign up for baseball. What are you talking about?!"
Verbal mirroring would sound something like this,
"Sounds like you may be feeling pushed into baseball today."
This lets your child know you have heard him, and opens the door to him being able to tell you more about the problem or feelings he may be experiencing, such as fear of being hit by the ball, disliking the coach or teammates, uncomfortable with his batting ability, etc. In fact, many times, parents will find that really listening to their children will help them (and their kids) to discover a deeper meaning to what their words are saying or their behavior is showing.

3. Avoid Stepping on Toes.  Just as listening is important in this dance of communication, so is mastering the art of speaking. If you are faced with a situation where your child is stepping on your toes, or in other words, causing you a problem with her behavior, using specific respectful language to elicit a change is essential. Because kids (yes, even teens) have a strong desire to please adults and live in peaceful environments, it is helpful to teach them how to learn these steps and what to do if they step on their partner's toes in the process.

For example, your teen has a tendency to play her music very loudly, and disrupts your peace. This day in particular, her music is interfering with an important phone call from a friend of yours. You can't hear your friend, and are getting angry. Instead of turning down the music yourself, slamming doors, or yelling,
"Turn down your music!!"[which may trigger her need for defiance (translation: hurt her feelings)], try saying instead,
"When the music is so loud, I can't hear my conversation, and I worry I won't hear all of the important things my friend is saying."

This allows your child to understand how her behavior tangibly effects your life (causes you a problem by not being able to hear), without feeling blamed or hurt, and allows her an opportunity to make a different choice (change that behavior by turning down the music now and in the future). This way, both of your needs get met without connection-breaking conflict. You get to save your toes and your child gets to learn how to modify their steps to stay in sync with their partner. Invaluable.

With these three tips: understanding your partner, actively listening and speaking clearly and respectfully, your dance of communication can be choreographed where both the leader and the follower can stay in-sync while supporting each other throughout the many different dances of life.

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Monthly Parenting Challenge

What Are Your Dances Like?

In the grocery store the other day,  a conversation was underway between a teenager and her mother. It went something like this:

Girl:"Mom, all I'm saying is that I want to go to [her friend's name]'s house instead of Aaron's graduation party.
Mom: "What you are saying is one-sided and selfish. You are not even considering how other people are feeling."
Girl:"I am not selfish. You don't understand at all. You never listen to me!"
Mom: "I do too listen to you. You are saying that you are going to think of yourself first. Period."
Girl: "Whatever."

The girl, with tears in her eyes, left her mom in the produce section and stormed out of the store.

This disconnect could have been avoided in many different ways. What might you have done differently if you were the mother? How might the mother have used tip #2 to encourage deeper understanding of her daughter's point of view while actively listening to her daughter's words?

Based on the dance steps we talked about in this issue, how would you re-write this one?

How can you re-write the steps in your dances of communication with your kids?

If you are curious about how to choreograph your specific dances with your kids but don't quite know how to start, contact us today and we can help you design your dances today.

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No More Excuses

At Solutions in Parenting, we offer personal parenting education and consultation for committed parents who want to raise confident, compassionate and responsible children. We are fortunate to get the opportunity to work with many different families in many different stages of life.

We can help you and your family thrive, whether we consult with you face-to-face, talk on the phone, communicate through email or talk in a workshop or group. No question or topic is too small or too big.

We accept all forms of payments, including credit cards for all services. Whether you buy a whole parenting package, or just one consultation session, we are here for you.

So no more excuses. Contact us today for more "how to" details!

 Contact us today for details.

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Meet Kristi Miller

Kristi Miller, MA, CAPI, and Solutions in Parenting Founder, is a Certified Aware Parenting Instructor and Parenting Consultant who offers a distinctive form of parent education coupled with hands-on training for parents and their families. For more than a decade, Kristi has been dedicated to a specialized form of parent education she developed which honors and encourages parents and helps them define and maintain their own personal styles. This, in turn, allows children to thrive in a loving and collaborative environment.

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