Written by: CASSANDRA MEZA CARRILLO, LCSW
Communication is a major key to a healthy relationship, and yet one of the hardest skills to master—and I say this from experience. As a family therapist, I often hear “She/He doesn’t listen to me” or “My parent doesn’t understand me.” The communication and relationship a parent has with their child is the foundation on how that child will interact and communicate with others (i.e. friends, romantic partners, work relationships). No pressure mom and dad.
I wanted to give you all some basic rules to begin improving the communication process. These are rules that you can apply to your daily routine, but I want to emphasize they are most effective in times of conflict. I have learned these rules through reading/researching about communication, personal experience, and my work with families in therapy.
Rule #1: Ask yourself what you are feeling and why
Always take a moment to identify the underlying reason for your current emotion before creating greater problems for yourself. Many times we have other “unresolved issues” that have nothing to do with the person in front of us. Looking within yourself, and tracing back your steps, will allow you to better clarify what needs to be resolved. Ask, am I upset because my child did XY&Z, or am I upset because of external factors. And as the child, ask yourself, did I have a hard day at school or work? Or did my parent specifically do something. One final sign to look out for, biological warnings. Are you tired or hungry? Being Hangry is a real thing. This will allow you to either avoid an argument, or better clarify what it is that needs to be discussed.
Rule #2 No Degrading Language
Sounds simple, but in reality sometimes we may be using certain terminology daily and now it no longer has a negative connotation. For example, someone is prone to saying the word “dumb” regularly and very casually, but placing it in a tense situation can bring on negative feelings for another person. Remember that you are discussing an issue and not the individual. Try and stay away from negative words and connecting them to a person (i.e. bad boy, bad girl). At the end of the day, you want to resolve an issue, not lower someone’s self-worth.
Rule #3 Take Turns Talking
If you talk at the same time, I can guarantee neither of you understood what the person said. The purpose of this is to listen to understand, not listen to have a rebuttal. There is a major difference between listening and understanding what they said. Taking turns allows you to ask follow up questions in order to fully understand what the other person is trying to express to you.
Rule #4 Express yourself using “I”
“I” statements are fundamental in communication because it allows you to communicate feelings without placing blame. An example of this is, “I get angry when you do not complete your chores when asked” or “I feel sad when I try and tell you about my day and you disregard me.” This allows an individual to better understand the core emotion associated with their action. As a therapist I always laugh with my clients about “I” statements because we do not naturally speak in this manner, so it always sounds a little awkward. Its definitely a habit that takes time to build but once built, you’ll save yourself some moments of misunderstanding.
Rule #5 Take a Time Out
It is important to know at what point to take a step back. We never want to get to the point of no return. There is no need to resolve an issue at that moment or even in the same day. Many times we need space and time to process our thoughts and feelings in a productive manner.
Rule #6 Do Not Shut Down
This can also be seen as “My way or the high way” or “tunnel vision.” If there is one thing you take away from this rule it is that you do not have to agree with what the other person says, but you should make efforts to listen to understand. In the dynamic between a parent and child, more often than not, the parent has the right to determine the outcome of a given situation. In order to avoid your child shutting down and saying “they don’t understand me” take some time to listen to their thought process before deciding how to resolve a problem. Make each other feel heard not ignored.
These rules are simple, yet sometimes difficult to achieve in the heat of the moment. They are not limited to your relationship with your child or parent. These rules are versatile and can be utilized in work/school settings, friendships, and romantic relationships. Remember, it takes time to break old habits and build new ones. Be patient with one another and never fear asking for help. Therapy is a great way to learn these techniques with the assistance and mediation of a therapist.
CASSANDRA MEZA CARRILLO, MSW, LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER 87238