Monday, 15 February 2010
What's the daily ratio of positive, encouraging words that you say to your children, compared to the number of complaints, orders, criticisms, warnings, and discouraging words? According to the children I've spoken to over the past 20 years, the ratio is heavily weighted toward the negative. Far too many children have told me that these daily negative interactions form the core of their communication with their parents.
Social research on family communication has repeatedly confirmed the fact that we spend very little time actually talking with our children (less than 20 minutes a day, on average) and that when we do speak to them, it's more often to register a complaint, a command, or a request for assistance. As kids grow older, the ratio of negative to positive comments appears to increase, peaking during their middle to later teenage years.
It seems we're not talking with our children very much – and when we do say something to them, it's not likely to increase their sense of self-worth. I've heard countless versions of "The only time I hear anything from my parents is when I screw up." We can change this dismal state of parent-child interaction by changing how and why we speak with our children every day.
Our focus must shift from reminding them and reprimanding them for what they are doing wrong and for how they are disappointing us, to reminding them and showing them how much they are loved, appreciated, and valued. It doesn't mean that we give them false flattery, because they'll see right through that. It also doesn't mean that you don't tell them when they're in the wrong. But it does mean that we can't let them think that they are invisible and unnoticed except when they make a mistake or do not please us.
We must have more real conversations, in which we show a genuine interest in their world and we share our world with them. It doesn't take much time to fire off a messy room command or a curfew warning. But it does take time to enumerate the ways that you've been noticing your eight-year-old daughter's daily kindness to her ailing grandmother, to mention that you've noticed your twelve-year-old son has been taking time every afternoon after school to teach his younger brother how to dribble a basketball, and to remind your five-year-old daughter that nobody can make her new baby sister laugh and smile like she can.
Accentuating the positive – their positives – should be at the core of your communication with your children. It should be your primary intention for talking with your kids. Telling and showing our children how much we love and appreciate who they are can become a daily habit. Make an effort to do so every day."