I live in a big city and every day witness people being curt and mean and yelling at each other. It's as if no one cares how others are feeling anymore. Every time I hear it, I get sad.
When spouses/partners, parents and kids, or strangers on the street are angry and no resolution occurs, the injured party walks away feeling isolated and alone. The connection is lost. That lost connection causes people to remain angry and spread their anger from one person or situation to another. It’s the kick-the-dog syndrome.
How can we reconnect again?
Connecting Even When Correcting Your Child's Behavior
As Circle of Moms member M. Ola says in response to a question posed by another mom, "the [kids] need to know that you are there to support them . . . they don't believe that when you appear not be listening." In other words, if you connect to your child before you correct his behavior, your child is much more likely to be willing to listen to you and far less likely to raise the "I'm not listening barrier," to tune you out, or to argue with you.
You might be thinking, "Oh no, not another touchy-feely way to parent. I handle my kids the way my parents handled me, and I turned out just fine!"
Stop and think about your childhood for a moment. When you were being yelled at and punished, weren't you desperately trying to tell your parents your side of the story? Connecting gives your child a chance to explain how he saw the situation unfold, which allows you to spot any holes in his understanding. This is how a real parent-child connection is created.
Simply asking him why he did something wrong as you're yelling and punishing doesn't produce the same results. Your child misses information about the impact of his behavior and the other choices he could have made instead. Teaching requires that he solve the problem with your support. This gives him firsthand experience and inspires him to make better choices next time.
There are two concepts to keep in mind when correcting your child: using the word "how" and active listening.
1. Starting With "How" Questions
As long as you don't just ask one question before launching an "I'll tell you where you went wrong" lecture, beginning with a "how" question rather than a "why" question will encourage connection with your child. Ask things like:
"How upset are you?"
"How did her words make you feel?"
"On a scale of 1-10, how mad are you?"
"How do you think you should have handled this?"
"How are you feeling now?"
2. Active Listening
Wikipedia says, "Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what they hear . . . [leaving] little room for assumption or interpretation." Using active listening assures your child that he's been heard.
An example would be: "You said Sally said mean things to you, so you hit her, right?"
3. Correcting Using the Word "What"
Now it's time to shift from connecting to correcting. To do that, begin sentences with the word "what."
"What are the rules in our house when you hit a friend?"
"What are you supposed to do instead?"
"What will you be doing now to fix his hurt feelings?"
"What else happens in our house when we hurt someone's feelings or body?"
It helps if you post a list on your refrigerator of your family's rules and what happens when the rules aren't followed. That allows you to supportively walk your child over to the list as you ask questions that begin with "what." Asking questions and using natural consequences to repair the damage requires a child to think and learn from his choices.
When the words "what" and "how" are used as part of the correction process, they help fill the needs of both parent and child by steering each of them away from anger. The child feels connected and heard, which further reduces power struggles. And the parent can truly teach his child what he needs to know without relying on reactions and punishment.
When families connect as they correct behavior, they're creating new habits that naturally show up in the workplace and in their daily interactions with others. Then hopefully, the pervasive anger we're experiencing in society will begin to shift as well.
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.