Robert Elias Najemy
A CHILD WANTS TO GO TO THE MOVIES
A child keeps pleading to be taken to a movie, but has not cleaned up his room for several days, a job, which he agreed to do.
What might be an average type of communication? An average parent may call the child lazy, irresponsible and inconsiderate.
An I-message in this case might be something like this:
"My child, sit down. I would like to express to you how I feel at this moment. There is conflict within me: on the one hand, I love you and want you to be happy. I want you to be able to enjoy that which makes you happy. I would like to take you to the movies, so that you might enjoy yourself. On the other hand, I feel cheated and that an injustice has been done, because we have made an agreement that you would clean your room, and you have not kept it. That makes me feel that you are not respecting our agreement and my need for your room to be clean.
"I also have another need, which is to feel that I am bringing you up in the proper way. When I see that you are not taking your word and your responsibilities seriously, I have doubts as to whether I am doing a good job and whether you will be able to function well in society, if you are not keeping your word. So I cannot bring myself to take you to the movies until you keep your word and clean up your room".
The parent may then lead into active listening with something like, "How do you feel what I have just said to you? Does it seem fair? Do you feel hurt? Would you like to talk about it?"
Also, the parent may take this opportunity to discuss with the child the factors that have prevented him from cleaning up his room.
"From the fact that you have not cleaned up your room, I get the idea that you do not like to do that job. Is there some special reason for that? Do you feel that it is unfair that I ask you to do that? What do you think would be a fair way to handle this situation? Have you some suggestions as to how we can overcome this source of tension between us?"
I can hear some parents who are reading this saying to themselves, "My child will never understand these explanations". My personal experience is that any child over two years old can understand the intent behind this communication and will feel the parentĒs respect, love and concern through it, and will feel the same for the parent.
THE BLARING STEREO
A child is playing her CDĒs so loud that the parents in the next room cannot communicate with one another.
An angry parent may likely say, "CanĒt you be more considerate of others? Are you deaf? Why do you play that so loud?"
Would we talk that way to our neighbors if they were playing the music that loud? Would we talk that way to our colleague, our boss or our friends? Do we have the right to speak demeaningly to our children just because we think they belong to us? Imagine how you would politely communicate with a neighbor who was playing music loudly (especially if he is physically bigger than you are).
Remember that the key to effective communication is that we neither suppress ourselves nor the others. We respect both our needs and those of the others. So, we are not going to put up with the music, but neither are we going to hurt the otherĒs feelings.
An example in this case might be as follows:
"Maria, could you please turn down the music for a moment? I would like to tell you something which is very important to me. I have conflicting needs. My need for you is to be happy and not to feel suppressed. I also do not want to be in a state of conflict with you because when I am, I do not feel at all well; and neither do you.
"On the other hand, I cannot tolerate the high volume which you were just playing your music. Your father and I are trying to talk in the next room and we cannot hear each other because of the music.
"I also have the need not to bother the neighbors, just as I would not like them to bother us. I would like to keep up good relationships with them. I Ēm afraid that the loud music may be bothering them. For that reason I ask you to please cooperate on this matter and play the music at a lower volume or perhaps you could wear headphones and enjoy the music at the volume you prefer, while we have peace".
Then the parent might want to lead into active listening as to how the child feels about that message. "How do you feel about what I Ēm asking you to do? Do you feel suppressed or unhappy? I hope we can find a way for both of us to be happy. Tell me your feelings".
This method of communication is much more likely to encourage willful cooperation from the child, while respect between parent and child is mutually maintained.
Although we feel great love for our children, we are often unable to communicate that love, because of a lack in communication skills. We mean well; but our own problems and fears get in our way and disrupt our communication with our children.