Parenting For a New Millennium

- Joellen Monson

As we begin a new year, let us take what is best from the old ways, realize what is no longer useful and try to decrease our use of those hurtful and unproductive ways from the past. During the coming year, Parentworks.com will be tackling common parenting skills which many parents find difficult to master. If your first impulse when seeing these techniques is "Oh, no! Not that one again - we implore you to stick with us and see if there isn't something new here that will make your parenting job just a bit easier this time!

Listening is one of those skills that everyone thinks they know how to do but few people truly have the gift. If you have been lucky enough to have spent time with someone with whom you have truly felt heard you know the feeling. Our bodies relax more, we can let go of the feelings because we have finally felt the release of being heard and understood.

Many people think that listening is the same as hearing - which is just the process of sound waves penetrating our ear drums and producing a commonly understood language. Message sent must mean the message was received as the speaker intended. However, true communication is anything but this simple process. The following ideas have been around for years now (though we don't hear about them as much as we should) and many of those presented below are based upon “Parenting for Yourself and Your Child”, courtesy of the Lake Washington Vocational Technical Institute.

Humans communicate with others as a way to get needs met and to satisfy the needs of others. There are at least four parts involved in every communication. Good communication is a process which involves all four.

The Four Parts involved when we communicate with one another:

Speaker   Message  Channel     Receiver       

When communication breaks down, ask yourself: "Was the trouble due to something the Speaker said?" or "Was the fault due to the Message itself...the way it was worded, sent?". Think about what was happening at the time of the communication …Did something i.e. the TV interfere with the Channel (way the message was sent)? Or perhaps the trouble was through some fault in listening on the part of the Receiver?

Even if everyone is trying to send or receive the message clearly at any point along the way, a message can get off track. One of the reasons is that at times all of us can place barriers to communication. These barriers are generally bad habits which impede clear listening. Some of these barriers are:

1)      Preoccupation – You are planning/thinking/doing something else and simply don’t listen.

2)      Thinking defensively – You are busy preparing an answer or comeback to what is being said.

3)      Closing you mind – You think that you know what is best for the situation and don’t want new information.

4)      Hearing what you expect to hear – You believe you “know” what the speaker is going to say and that is what you hear.

One way to check out if our attempts at expressing an idea are accurately being perceived by our listener is through the use of Feedback.

Feedback: Think of a time when you weren't given a chance to give to tell your side of a story. That was One-Way communication. Like a teacher in a lecture hall, in one-way communication, the sender doesn’t get any feedback (information) from the receiver (or maybe doesn’t want any feedback). It is very frustrating for anyone who is simply "talked at".

In Two-Way communication there is a mutual give and take between the sender and receiver. Feedback breeds a sense of understanding. The sender knows if the message has been accurately received and the receiver can ask questions about the message. Both feel equal in the conversation. With two-way communication and feedback if you aren't sure exactly what someone means you can find out by testing out your guess.

We now add feedback to the communication process diagram:

Sender     Message         Feedback        Channel          Receiver

These are techniques which are called active listening. It is a kind of listening that helps you know how the other person is really feeling. Many times we have a guess that there is a lot really missing from what they're saying to us. Active listening can help us get to this hidden information. To learn the skill of active listening provided you must:

1)      Really want to hear what the other person has to say.

2)      Believe that what the other person is saying is important to the other person and you want to help them if necessary.

3)      Genuinely accept their feelings.

4)      Trust the other person’s ability to work things out by themselves.

Here are some rules about active listening:

1)      Listen for information.

2)      Listen with every sense possible.

3)      Allow the other person to help you to understand.

4)      Acknowledge the feelings that you hear behind the words.

5)      Remember there is a difference between feelings and actions.

6)      Show understanding.

We show the people we love that what they say is important to us by:

1)      Listening without saying anything: Sometimes we jump too quickly to give advise. There are times when someone just wants to share with us. Then, it is useful to look at the other with attention and genuine interest on our face. We keep communication lines open and that show we are interested in listening to as much as our family wants to tell us i.e. “I see…Tell me more…That’s interesting”

2)      By listening actively for words and the feelings behind the words and by letting the speaker know you heard what they said and what they felt: In active listening the listener tries to hear what the speaker is Saying and Feeling. Then to be sure we have understood the speaker’s words and feelings, we give feedback to the speaker by letting them know what we believe they said. The speaker then has a chance to say whether they have been heard correctly. If not, they can correct the listener’s statement.

All too often, when people talk to one other, they disregard the other persons’ point of view, or miss completely how the other person feels. When a person feels disregarded or misunderstood or humiliated they are apt to feel angry, rebellious or may decide not to cooperate with what the other person is trying to get them to do.

 “I” Messages

An “I” message tells someone how you are feeling about something that has happened. It focuses on your feelings and what you are thinking. It lets the other person have a clear understanding of your thoughts and feelings. “I” messages are specific and never judgmental or critical of the other person. You specifically talking about your own feelings. This can be a positive feeling or a negative feeling.

There are three steps to learning to use “I” messages effectively: You need to describe the behavior that upsets or please you, then tell the other person what you are feeling and finally discuss the results of the consequences.

1)      When you ……………..(Behavior)

2)      I feel …………………  (Feeling)

3)      Because ……………….(Results or Consequences)

“I” messages can be very important when talking with children. Because the goal of an “I” message is to be very clear, the child can really hear what you want him to hear. Honestly stating our adult feelings will not damage a child. We always avoid attacking the child’s personality and character. We stay focused on the situation at hand and do not bring out all our past hurts. We never blame the other person for how we feel. Often we expect the other person to “know” how we feel, but an “I” message ensures that they will. Usually people don’t know for sure how the other person feels. We need to tell people when we are feeling happy or upset about something that they did for us. Doing so can build their self concept and improve the relationship between you.

With this new knowledge added to your list of parenting skills, not only will you gain a better handle on these difficult situations, your child can learn how to make amends for mistakes and you will be sending a strong message of how a responsible adult handles a stressful experience. We know you can do this!