When Amy was small, she frequently lied to me, which was upsetting and left me bewildered. Then, after spending a weekend with our family, a friend commented as she was leaving, “Paul, I think Amy is scared of you.” Wow. That thought had never crossed my mind, but upon reflection, I could understand it.
So, I did a number of things:
- I told Amy she would never get in trouble if she told me the truth.
- I stopped reprimanding her when I was upset and waited until my tone of voice could be supportive.
- I found ways to spend three to four more hours a week with her just being together.
Interestingly, the lying disappeared. Amy was simply reacting to a Dad who was scary at times. Stop being scary, the lying disappears.
Linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen says that you are either creating relationship or controlling someone with how you are in a conversation. Now, I agree that this is a simplistic, either/or, way of looking at conversations. Yet sometimes the simple ideas are the most profound.
Here are some other quick ways of assessing your conversations:
- you are either easy to speak with or in some way threatening.
- you are either creating possibility or eliminating possibility.
- you are either providing room for your children to push back on your conversation or leaving no room or safety for them to do so.
- you are either indicating to your kids that you are interested in their views or you are not.
- your kids either look forward to speaking with you or they don’t.
Think back on this week’s conversations with your kids. What were you creating with what you said? How did your words or tone affect how your child might respond?
Remember—you matter to your kids, and therefore what you say has an impact on them. If you remember this, you’ll be more aware of what you say and how you say it.
One last thought: Maybe it’s all reaction—and if we change how we approach our kids, they will react to us in a different way.