Over our Christmas vacation, I was chastised by a relative for not sending enough — or the right kind — of thank you notes. My response? I felt angry, indignant, humiliated, inadequate. My immediate reaction was to become defensive AND to go on the attack. Or, in the alternative, to simply slink away and avoid any meaningful interaction with this person in hopes of avoiding being hurt again.
Thinking about this experience a week later gives me some insight to how my kids may hear and receive my criticism.
Near the beginning of her book Positive Discipline, author Jane Nelsen poses the following challenge: “Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?”
A friend of mine who is a psychologist leads parenting groups teaching Positive Discipline methods. She recently told me about an exercise that involved having an adult stand on a chair while speaking to another adult in the group who played the part of a child. This role play was incredibly powerful, she said. It evoked strong emotions and helped her and the other parents realize how intimidating, critical, and discouraging they might seem to their children from their positions of power and authority.
Yet, somehow, I expect my children to welcome my corrections, suggestions, and critiques. It baffles and frustrates me when they pout, get angry, or refuse to listen to what I have to say.
I consider myself a skilled communicator — empathetic, insightful, able to articulate important points and generate good ideas. This is a big part of how I see myself. And most of my experiences in the adult world reinforce my sense of being very capable of positive and effective interactions with other people.
But in the world of children, it seems, all bets are off. The tools I views as strengths don’t work the same way when I’m talking to my kids. Because my “talking skills” are something I take pride in, I think it’s been especially hard for me to accept that “reasoning” with the kids (aka — lecturing, nagging, guilting, over-explaining) is just not working! Similarly, I’m sure my relative did not perceive that she was hurting me deeply with her comments or that there was anything inappropriate or ineffective about the way she approached what she wanted to say to me.
Receiving criticism, from time-to-time, in some shape or form, is inevitable. But the bottom line is nobody likes it! Thinking about this from my children’s point of view (which, interestingly enough, has more in common with my own point of view than I realized) has helped take the sting out of “the thank you note incident”. It’s also made me realize I need to approach my communications with them differently. I’m not sure what this will look like, exactly — and it will definitely be hard for me. After all, I do generally think I’m right and know what’s best! So, in the year ahead — a challenge: more creative communication and thinking outside of my box when I interact with my children. Wish me luck!
More about our holiday travels and new year’s resolutions in the next post! : )