Problems Communicating With Your Child

Are you suffering from communication problems between your child? Check out this approach to deal with these common parent problems.

Communicating With Your Child | Are you suffering from communication problems between your child? Check out this approach to deal with these common parent problems. | Ben Jackson | @benjacksoncoach

Are you suffering from communication problems between your child? Check out this approach to deal with these common parent problems.

Whether you parent a 2, 3 or 4 year old who doesn’t want to cooperate, our parenting skills are put to the test when he or she doesn’t understand or appreciate our efforts. It may feel as though your child is wilfully making things harder while you attempt to juggle work, family and home. This communicating problem can feel that you’re the only who ‘gets it’; leaving you angry and frustrated. As Tired ‘N Tested video brilliantly shows it can make getting out anywhere gruelling and tiring.

‘Anywhere’ – A Fleetwood Mac Parody for UnPunctual Parents by Tired ‘N Tested

How you’re communicating is only as good as the response you get

These parent and child communication problems are common.

But what causes this lack of communication between parent and child? Before pointing blame at our child, I offer we check our communication first. It maybe that that is where the problem lies.

A friend recently shared an exercise he’d recently used when teaching English in a school in Zambia. He wanted to highlight to the students how much information we delete when we explain something.

He began by asking them to imagine that an alien had arrived in the school. In small groups the students had to write instructions to explain to this alien how to put on a shoe. He then assumed the role of the alien, following the instructions each group read out.

“Put the shoe on”. So he put the shoe on top of his foot. They changed the instruction, “Undo the laces”. So he unthreaded all the laces. “Put the shoe on the left foot”. But as an alien he wouldn’t know what was left or right.  He wanted the students to notice that sometimes it’s us who need to adjust what we are communicating when instructions aren’t followed.

Recognise this?

You prepared the lunchboxes the evening before. You wake up early so you can get yourself ready for the day. By the time you’re dressed and ready, the children are still in their pyjamas and watching television, on an iPad or bickering. You’re getting breakfast sorted. And you’re feeling the stress levels rise as you mentally weigh up whether you have time to put a wash on.

At each stage your mind is already thinking two steps ahead. Mapping out how the morning has to work so that you all can leave on time. And often it’s usually at this point that you’re told of the forgotten homework that’s due today.

You’re left feeling deeply frustrated and, truth be told, feeling lonely.

So what are we communicating?

Because our minds are running ahead of us, planning and evaluating, it’s easy to think in shortcuts and delete bits of information.  Our brains working two or three steps ahead and only need to operate in mental shorthand. Whilst this short circuitry is fine in our minds, often our children can struggle to appreciate what is happening.

Avoid tension and a source of conflict by checking you’re not setting expectations or requests that are beyond the ability of the child to do fully and independently.

This deletion of stuff we have in our heads can lead us to miscommunicate what we want to achieve, and our child doesn’t understand. When they don’t get it right, it’s a source of frustration and anger.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps these are some phrases you hear yourself say:

“They should know to get ready on time.”

“We’re leaving in 10 mins.”

“Why aren’t you ready?”

Ultimately frustration can revolve around you saying to yourself, “Because if I know it, why don’t they?”

There’s a ‘but’

Let’s challenge those statements:

“They should know to get ready on time”. But how should they know?

“We’re leaving in 10 minutes”. Does your child know how to read the time or measure  what 10 minutes actually is?

“Why aren’t you ready?”. When they’re left in front of the TV and expect them to turn it off and get ready.

Isn’t it like asking them to do something that they’re untrained to do? Just because you’re running around getting ready to leave doesn’t always translate that they need to knuckle down too and get ready. But that’s often where the communication problem with children can lie.

Avoid tension and a source of conflict by checking you’re not setting expectations or requests that are beyond the ability of the child to do fully and independently.

Think it through: What is the problem?

We are only ever as good as the response we get. It’s worth a moment to check in and think whether your communication is understood. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps there needs to be another approach.

What if you’re trying to get your child to do something yet you start already frustrated? How does this affect you? What behaviour do you display and how might that translate to your child?

We rarely perform at our best when we are under stress, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed. This naturally filters through to the words we use, and how we say them.

What might have you inadvertently deleted from your request? Have you missed out some bit of information that in hindsight would have been beneficial?

An invitation

Bringing this back to my opening point, I’m inviting you to consider that there is a benefit of reviewing what you assume your child knows, perhaps they don’t and we need to check with them to see whether they understand what you are expecting from them. Check in with what you’re actually communicating.

Perhaps there’s something in what you said, or how you communicated? Have you really been clear with them? Eye-level, no distractions and got them to repeat what their roles are?

I really invite you to look at what happens when you’ve not got the outcome you wanted or hoped for.


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About the Author

Ben Jackson coaches for personal development, leadership and transition for career parents. Juggling work, family and life in the Chilterns, he’s currently studying consecutively for a diploma in counselling and a diploma in teaching.

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