For me, the best book ever written about parent-child communication was Dr. Thomas Gordon’s P.E.T. – Parent Effectiveness Training, a 1975 classic that is still widely used today.
It isn’t easy to raise kids. Sometimes they’re sweet and adorable. But growing up means they have a lot to learn. This means they’re getting into trouble, misbehaving, making mistakes, and creating problems. Parents are already dealing with stress and challenges, so kids’ behavior can evoke emotional reactions.
Gordon referred to these reactions as the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of common communication mistakes that cause resentment and alienation in relationships.
I think twelve is too many to remember, so I’ve consolidated the list to my “self-defeating seven”:
- ORDERING (commanding, directing, controlling, threatening, ultimatums)
- ARGUING (debating)
- LECTURING (moralizing, preaching)
- GIVING ADVICE (instructing, solving)
- CRITICIZING (judging, shaming, blaming)
- PUT-DOWNS (sarcasm, name-calling, jokes at child’s expense, verbal abuse)
Parents are only human, and in difficult and frustrating moments, every parent who ever lived has dealt with their child using one or more of these emotional reactions.
Why? Because they’re tired, frustrated and under pressure. Because that’s how their own parents handled things. Because they work.
Well, they may work fairly well with little kids, who are innocent, powerless and dependent.
But by the age of 12, when puberty kicks in, when the child is more experienced, when the pre-teen or teen is pushing for more independence and no longer wants to be treated like a little kid anymore…no, the “self-defeating seven” stop working. Instead of compliance, you start getting anger and rebellion.
In fact, continuing to deal with a teenager this way is a perfect prescription for damaging the relationship and burning the bridge of communication, which is essential for guiding and influencing the development of your child to become a happy, strong, successful, independent adult.
There’s a better way. It involves using a handful of basic parent-child communication skills.
Instead of ORDERING, CONFLICT RESOLUTION.
Instead of ARGUING, DIALOGUE.
Instead of LECTURING, GUIDING LEARNING.
Instead of GIVING ADVICE, STIMULATING THINKING.
Instead of CRITICIZING, FEEDBACK.
Instead of PUT-DOWNS, ENCOURAGEMENT.
Instead of IGNORING, LISTENING.
If your child isn’t a teenager yet, that’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity. You can start learning and using the skills now, so they’ll be there for you when you need them most. And your child will get used to relating to you this way. Using these skills with kids creates wonderful outcomes:
- Communication actually happens – connecting, resolving, encouraging.
- You relate to the child on an adult-adult level, which is what they want.
- The bond between you grows stronger.
- The child’s prefrontal cortex (the rational, “executive area of the brain) is engaged and exercised, helping to create a fine mind.
- You model the most effective parenting and interpersonal skills for your child to follow.
- You’re reinforcing the same effective communication skills that work best with other adults, such as your spouse, friends or colleagues.
The problem is, very few parents are already adept at any of these skills. Practically no adult alive today was introduced to them as a part of their formal education. We learned to deal with each other in a haphazard, unstructured way, “on the street” so to speak. And almost none of us had parents who were role models for this kind of behavior. So typically, conscious, caring parents will have to improve the way relate to their growing teens.
You can see this as a monumental problem, another example of how unfair the world is. Or, if you want to avoid the classic parent-teen emotional issues, you can get to work.
I recommend starting with Dr. Gordon’s book. As I write this, you can get a used copy for 1 cent on Amazon.com!
Then, consider the online coaching system, Strong for Parenting, which is designed to help parents ingrain all seven of the above skills.