It’s not what you say …
Ever get frustrated because the family isn’t cooperating?
The dishes need doing.
Or you’re just trying to reason with your eleven-going-on-eighteen year old?
The next thing war’s broken out.
You’re both shouting at each other.
Or your child’s stormed out the room. Or you have.
What went wrong?
Or, in Parent Coaching language:
‘What could I have done that would have been more helpful? ‘
I learnt a hugely helpful way of looking at this from Stephen Stosny’s book, ‘How to Improve Your Marriage Without Even talking About It’ (love that title!)
He explains that we react to the other person’s motivation.
It’s not what we say that counts – it’s how we say it!
Stosny says there are three motivations:
Attack, Avoid, and Approach.
When we sense that the other person is coming from an approach motivation –you want to connect, you want to hear my side of the story too, you want to be there for me, you want to have a sense of how I’m experiencing tbis – then we experience a sense, ‘You’re on my side.’
I can let down my defences.
I can cooperate.
But very often we have a gut sense that things aren’t okay.
We’re sensing an Avoid or an Attack motivation.
It’s easy to figure that our child’s going to react if we’re yelling or shouting.
A strong tug on the arm can also trigger an ‘attack’ message.
Blatant attack is pretty obvious.
But the child will also sense the ‘Attack’ motivation when we’re comparing, judging, coercing, manipulating, belittling, dominating, insulting or criticising.
When we devalue what is important to the child.
Invading the child’s space can also be experienced as ‘attack’.
Even labelling (‘Don’t be cheeky.’/ ‘Be a good girl.’) Wouldn’t you struggle if somebody tried to put you in a box!
And if you attack me – I either attack back, or I take flight.
I attack back: I protest, I roar, I shout, I hit out (literally or figuratively), I attack your loved ones (e.g. hit my sister), I thwart you by not cooperating
Or I take flight: I run out (slamming the door in protest), I focus on the TV / play station game.
I act as though I can’t hear you.
I disappear unhappily inside myself, even though I’m still in the room.
Likewise the child’s ‘fight or flight’ instinct is going to be triggered when the child senses an ‘Avoid’ motivation.
Besides blatant ignoring here’s some of the ignoring behaviours that can press our children’s buttons:
– focusing on the TV / newspaper
– busy on the computer or mobile phone
– ‘I’m busy in my own head’ ignoring
– busy with supper or whatever
– high on drugs or alcohol (This can be a really scary one for the child: ‘The lights are on but nobody’s home.’
Another form of ‘avoid’ is abandoning our child.
Do we abandon our children regarding their feelings and experiences?
‘Oh just sort it out yourself.’
‘Of course you like peas.’
‘Don’t be a baby.’
Think about abandoning your child on the ‘naughty step’.
Ignoring a young child’s tantrum. (The young child’s brain is not adequately developed for the child to be able to calm herself).
A baby wild animal would die if the mother left it.
For a young child a sense of abandonment can be an ‘I’m going to die here’ experience.
The child needs to feel connected.
The issue is not about how do I stop my child from being reactive, the issue is what is the child experiencing as my motivation.
What might my child’s reactive behaviour be telling me?
Attack, Avoid or Approach? It’s your choice.
Childs outburst? Or withdrawal?
Rather than asking,
“What did I say?’
we need to ask ourselves, ‘How did I say it?’
What do you think? I’d love to hear your responses.