Today there is an ever growing communication gap between parents, teachers and the children whom they are responsible for. This chapter will be useful to those who want to communicate more effectively and harmoniously with their children. Some of the basic concepts of communication expressed in earlier chapters are repeated here with emphasis on communication with children.
THE BASIS OF COMMUNICATION
The guidelines for effective communication with children are, of course the same as those for communication between all human beings. The basis of communication is the golden rule, «do to others as you would like others to do to you». So we simply need to ask, «how we would like others to communicate with us?» Here are some thoughts:
1. We would all like honesty from those who communicate with us. No one likes being told lies. Nor do we like people to make up stories and excuses. We would like to hear the truth about what the other is thinking, feeling or doing. We feel more safe, more able to deal with the situation, when we know what we are dealing with. The same holds for the child. When he is told lies, he feels insecure and cannot trust the world around him. He learns to tell lies himself. He gets the message that the world is full of liars and learns not to trust anyone. There can be no communication in such a case. We must remember that saying that we will do something, and then not doing it, is a form of lie, which undermines the child’s faith in us.
2. We all want some type of logical reasoning from the person who is communicating with us. If he starts talking in an irrational way, or says, «look it will simply be done this way and I have no intention of explaining to you why; do it that way because I said so, because I want it that way, although it seems illogical», we will not feel very happy. We will feel that the other has no interest in our needs or feelings. We will feel that he is not respecting us. This is the way a child feels, when parents or teachers give orders or make statements without explaining the reasons behind them. No child is too young to be spoken to with reason and logic. Even if he cannot grasp all the factors involved, he will at least feel that he is being respected. That is important.
3. Respect is absolutely essential in communication. We need to respect both ourselves and the other. That means that on the one hand, we do not suppress that which we want or feel, and on the other, we do not suppress the other. It also means that we do not shout at, criticise or demean the others with harsh words. We would not like to be talked to in this way. Children are even more sensitive and vulnerable to shouting and harsh words. Their self-image and sense of security are undermined. Respect breeds respect. The parent who shows respect to the child from the early years and speaks to him as an equal, will find that the child will return this behavior in the later years. The parent, who criticises, blames, demeans or speaks down to his child frequently will find that during adolescence, this lack of respect will then be returned to the parent.
4. We all want to be loved. We want to know that the other person cares for us, accepts us. It is not necessary for them to agree with us or accept anything we do or believe. We can accept each other despite our difference. This kind of unconditional acceptance is essential for open honest, communication. If I feel that the other is going to get angry, or reject me, or nag me for something which I will tell him, then I will likely not communicate at all with him. This is a situation children get into frequency. When parents frequently criticise and advise their children, they gradually stop telling the parents what they are doing. They stop communicating, because whatever they will say will be criticised. Or they may start criticising the parent. They start rejecting whatever the parents say. They may do this with words or with actions which symbolise rebellion, independence and rejection of the beliefs of the parents or the society in general. Assurance that there will always be love and acceptance, whatever the one or the other may do, keeps the channel open for honest communication. Remember that we are talking about accepting the being and not every action which he may perform. This distinction is important. We can express our nonacceptance of a particular belief or behavior, while still feeling love and acceptance for the child.
5. A child looks for consistency from his elders. He does not like to be told to live in one way, while the parent lives in another. A parent who smokes, does not have the right to forbid his children from smoking. When we teach the child not to lie, and he hears us lying frequently on the phone to friends and business partners, how can he respect his parents? How can he respect the words of people in society? How will he believe his wife or coworkers or anyone else? When there is no consistency between words and actions, the basis of communication breaks down, because words have no meaning, they are empty.
6. Communication is a two way process. A telephone has a place to speak and a place to listen. We need to learn to speak and to listen. We do not like to communicate with someone who talks continuously and does not allow us a chance to express ourselves. On the other hand, neither do we like it when we speak and the other does not respond, expressing a little of himself to us. A balance is needed. Most parents need to learn to listen more. Children need a sounding board for their thoughts, discoveries and problems. If a parent is not capable of listening properly the child will close up into himself or find someone else to talk with. In both cases the communication line with the parents will wither. Other parents may need to learn to share more of themselves with their children beyond the usual advice and questions as to whether they have finished their homework or not. The child feels closer and more open to the parent, when the parent is more open as a person to the child. The parent has feelings, problems, fears, a past, thoughts, ideas, interests which he could share with the child. Thus the child will have a human relationship with the parent rather than a typical role relationship in which the only communication is between the roles of parent and child. Sometimes this type of role-communication can carry on until the parent is eighty and the «child» sixty years old. There is no real communication here. There is just mechanical role playing.
HOW WE COMMUNICATE NOW
Let us briefly mention how most people communicate now. There are two basic categories; those who suppress themselves and do not communicate; and those who suppress the others by raising their voices, blaming and criticising the others, ordering them around in various ways. The first group of self-suppressors, eventually develop various physical and psychological problems, through the suppression of their needs, emotions and beliefs. But who is to blame if these people have not expressed their needs effectively enough for others to understand them and cooperate with them? The second group may manage to get what they want from the others, but they also cause the others to develop feelings of resentment towards them. Thus the other will not communicate openly and honestly and will not feel loving and harmonious with him. Neither of these methods of communication are effective. What then is the alternative? There is a third possibility in which we communicate the truth, and do not suppress our feelings, beliefs or needs. But we express ourselves without demeaning or blaming the other in anyway. We maintain respect for ourselves and for the other. We neither speak up to, nor down towards, the other, but rather directly and openly, as two mature adults, who are taking responsibility for their lives and their realities. This is absolutely essential in our communication with children. Blaming children for our unhappiness, seriously undermines their self-image, self-confidence, self-worth and self-love.
Effective communication is not possible without a clear understanding of what we are feeling. Behind every feeling or emotion there lies a belief conscious or subconscious (usually the latter) which is causing us to have that emotion. That belief is called a programming. What we feel is a result of what we believe about what is happening. What we believe is dependent on our childhood programming, needs, fears, attachments, and expectations. All of these affect how we feel in certain situations, and thus they affect how we act towards our children. It is very important for parents and teachers to be able to analyze what they are feeling, and why they are feeling that way, so that they can communicate the truth to the child. This is effective communication – the truth. Most often we do not communicate the truth. This is so not because we want to lie, but because we have not yet discovered the truth. We have not yet analysed ourselves to discover why we are feeling the way we are. We have not analysed our programmings and beliefs to see whether they are logical or simply mechanical thoughts, patterns, habits and fears which we have been programmed into, and which are causing us to mechanically transfer our beliefs, prejudices, fears, and expectations onto our children. There can be no evolution in this way. And where there is no evolution eventually there is revolution. When parents and teachers fail to continue to grow, then they obviously come into conflict with the forces of change and evolution which are working through the child, and the result will be conflict between them. We are not suggesting that parents adopt their children’s beliefs or ways, but rather that they simply do some self-analysis to examine their programmings, needs, motives, expectations and fears to see if they are valid, fair and practical. You will remember from the first volume of this book (Discovering Our Selves) that our emotions are not so much the function of what others do to us, or what happens in the world around us. How we feel is a function of how we interpret the world and events around us. Each person, observing the same event, will feel differently depending on his childhood programming, expectations, attachments and fears. No two people will feel exactly the same while observing the same event, or receiving the same stimulus. What does this have to do with communication? Everything. We communicate what we feel. This is true even when we try to suppress or hide our feelings. They are transmitted like radar to those around us without words or expression. When we feel fear or self-doubt, or are disappointed by our children, but we express anger or rejection to them, then this is not truthful communication. Our first emotion was self doubt, disappointment or fear, and then we felt anger. But we express only the anger. We hold the other responsible for our unhappiness. We use phrases like «bad boy», «bad girl», «you are lazy», «you are stupid», «you will not do anything in your life», «you will be the death of me», «you are driving me crazy». These messages, although not really meant by the parent, are taken very seriously by the child and are programmed into his subconscious mind. He then begins to make those words come true in his life. Or he may spend his whole life trying to prove that they are not true. No matter how much he may prove it, however, because he is programmed deep inside to doubt his worth as a result of the parents’ criticism and accusation, he may never succeed in believing that he is okay. You will remember that these messages are called «you- messages» and are based on the false idea that the other is responsible for how we feel. Our programming and expectations are responsible for how we feel. We create our inner reality with how we interpret the events around us. «You- messages» are destructive to the child’s self-image and close the door to open communication. A parent may succeed in making his child behave in a certain way but he will lose the loving contact with the child. A more effective method of communication is called the «I-message».
«I – MESSAGES»
As with the «I-message» we learned in previous chapters, we explain to the child what we are really feeling and the thoughts, beliefs, expectations, fears and attachments which create those feelings within us. We communicate:
1. The various emotions which we are having.
2. The beliefs and programmings which are creating these emotions.
3. What stimulus or behavior on the part of the child triggers this mechanism.
4. How we usually act towards the child when we feel that way.
5. And wherever it is appropriate, we may ask the child to cooperate with us by avoiding that behavior in the future.
6. Then we ask the child to explain how he feels and we exercise active listening.
Let us take an example. A child brings home low grades. This is the stimulus, the event which is perceived by the parents’ senses. Let us examine some of the emotions which the parents might feel with this event. Parents will feel differently depending on their programmings and expectations. One may feel disappointment, insecurity, shame, doubt about oneself as parent, anger towards the child, anger towards the teachers, inferiority towards other parents whose children are doing better, concern for the child or even guilt. Some parents may be strongly affected. Others may approach the problem more rationally and effectively without panic and family crisis. Now what are some of the programmings or beliefs which a parent may have which may create some of these emotions. It is important to examine these, because, we may be being controlled by false programmings which may cause us to express anger or rejection towards the child, which, in this case, is probably the last thing he needs. The child too is obviously having a problem. This is a time when he needs to feel support and help in understanding what is preventing him from using his abilities to the extent that he could. Rejection or harsh words will only make him react more negatively or hide, closed into himself. So, why is the parent feeling what he feels? What are some of the programmings or beliefs which control his mind?
1. A child must have high grades in order to succeed in the world. A parent who is programmed in this way will feel fear about the child’s future and failure in his role as parent to prepare his child for the world. Thus his «I-message» would be something like this, «John, I would like to talk with you. I have a problem. I feel responsible for your future. I believe that it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to help you be successful and happy in your life. I also believe that high grades are essential for your survival and success and happiness in the future. Perhaps I am not giving you something which you need. I would really like to talk about this in detail. How do you feel? Is there anything which is bothering you or preventing you from concentrating? With this kind of «I-message» which leads into active listening in which we help the child to open up to us, the child is less likely to feel accused or hurt. Thus he will not need to react negatively or close up into himself. There will be a greater possibility of open, honest, effective communication. At the same time, the parent would do well to examine those programmings which he has. It is true that success and happiness depend on high grades at school? Take a look around you. Does this theory hold up? Are the highly educated and very rich really happy? Perhaps some are. Did those who are successful, dynamic, happy, productive members of society have high grades or are there other factors involved? Perhaps higher grades can be had by one who knows how to memorise and be a robot at school. Does that mean that he can think, analyze and communicate with people? Does that mean that he is ethical or able to function in our society? Perhaps too much importance is being given to one of the many factors which may help our children survive and succeed in life. There are many others which may be much important in our child’s life such as morality, character, love for others, self-respect, self-confidence, enthusiasm, creativity, concern for others, and various other talents which the child may have. When we worry and pressure the child on the basis of this one factor, we risk destroying all the others in the conflict which takes place. In general, the most creative and analytical minds cannot thrive in the mechanised uncreative school system.
2. A second belief a parent may have is that he is successful if his child is successful and unsuccessful if his child fails. In this case the parent may explain this programming to the child. But does he have the right to ask the child to conform to some sort of behavior which simply fulfils the subjective programmings and expectations of the parent? Why should a child be forced to fulfil some specific expectation of the parents so that the parents can feel successful? That child may have been born to take a completely different road, to have other experiences which have nothing to do with the expectations of the parents or their definition of success. The parent may have defined success with conditions like plenty of money, high professional position, or high social status. But will that particular personality who is now their child be happy in that role? Does money really bring happiness? Do people in high positions seem happier than others? Are they enjoying life? Are they healthy? Do they have harmony with those around them? What do we want for our children, success in the eyes of society or health, happiness and harmony? In some cases they may be able to have all that. In other cases, they may conflict. We cannot know. There is a small voice in the child which does know. It is better for the child to decide what he wants to do with his life. That inner voice will guide him sooner or later to the role which that soul came to play on earth. The parent, with this belief, that he is successful if his child is successful, must also examine the difference between efforts and results. The parent is responsible for his efforts. Not for the results. Parents with many children can verify that although they treat the different children much in the same way, the children react completely differently. It seems that each child brings with him some already developed traits, which are independent of the childhood programming which we give them. How we behave towards the child and how we live our lives are extremely important factors in the child’s character development. But they are not the only factors. So we cannot judge ourselves based on the results of what happens with the child. We can judge ourselves based on our motives and our efforts. Have our motives been pure? Have we always done what we have thought was best for the child (regardless of whether today we see that we have made mistakes), have we always tried to do the best of our ability with the energy and consciousness which we had in the past? Realising this will help us be at ease with our conscience, and do not need to force our children to succeed in our terms, so that we can feel that we are successful parents. This is a great weight for the child to carry. We would not like to carry this weight and we have no right to place it on our children.
3. Another belief, which the parent may have which may cause him to get upset with the news of the low grades is, «I must have the acceptance, recognition and respect of others in order to feel self-acceptance and self-love». If a parent has need for recognition from friends and society through his child’s performance at school, then he will feel shame, inferiority, failure and then anger at the child for putting him in that position. If the parents express only the anger to the child and accuse him of being a failure and useless, then they are on the one hand destroying even further the child’s self-confidence and ability to succeed, and on the other hand not being truthful. He is not expressing his real feelings which came before the anger. Something which all parents, teachers and people in general must understand is that anger is always a second or third emotion. We feel anger when we first feel fear or insecurity. Most animals attack only when they are cornered and feel fear for their lives, or the lives of their children. The same is true of humans. When someone is angry you can be sure that somewhere behind that anger there is fear about something. It may be difficult to find but it is without doubt, there. Take the present example. There may be the fear of rejection or ridicule by friends and relatives whose children may be doing better than ours. There might be the fear of failing in the role of the parent. There may be fear about the future of the child. There may be fear of losing control over the child. There may be fear of the rejection of the parents’ belief system and expectations. In this case the fear of what others will say causes the parent to become angry with the child. Thus the «you – message» to the child that he is no good, is not the complete truth. The parent must analyze his own needs for affirmation and see his need for approval from others, his doubt about his abilities as a parent and various other emotions which he may have had before he felt anger. The problem is that these emotions work so quickly and usually subconsciously that the parent, who has not worked on self-analysis, will find it difficult to become conscious of the emotions which hide behind, and create his anger. In such cases keeping a diary is essential. The parent or teacher could take ten to twenty minutes every evening before sleeping and write down the major emotional experiences of the day. Then he can analyze the programmings or beliefs which are causing these emotions. In this way he will gradually gain clarity. (Details about self-analysis are given in Volume one: Discovering Our Selves) We can see that a great part of effective communication is analysing our selves. Without this we cannot communicate honestly. In the case of the parent who is controlled by the belief that he is successful if his child is, or that he must have the recognition of the people around him, most of the work depends on the parent’s changing these false programmings. He has no right to pressure the child for these selfish reasons. On the other hand, until he is able to free himself from these programmings, he can explain them to his child in an «I-message».
Now the child himself obviously has a problem which is not allowing him to use his mental abilities to their full potential. His problem could have to do with conflicts within the family, conflicts with other children or with teachers at school, disappointments in love, lack of self-confidence, lack of proper nutrition, a disillusionment with society and the school system, as well as many other possibilities. In such a case, the most effective method of communication is active listening. Let us look at some brief guidelines for active listening.
1) Let the other talk without interruption. Do not break his or her flow with your need to project your own ideas. When we interrupt others, we cut off their flow. This flow may bring to the surface the cause of the problem, which they themselves have not yet discovered.
2) Look into the other’s eyes and not away. Let your body be facing the person and not sideways. Show interest in what the other is saying, and in this way let him know that you are listening actively and carefully, and care about what he is saying.
3) Do not, in any case, criticise or start giving advice. This technique is like the «questioning» which Socrates used in order to bring out of the other the truth which was lying within him. It is extremely important not to criticise or disagree or reject during the active listening. At the end of the discussion we may state how we feel. After the discussion is completed, if we do not agree, we, of course, have the right to state so. But during the active listening do not stop the other’s flow with criticism or rejection.
4) Ask questions which help you to understand more clearly what the other is feeling. These question will help both you and the other (in this case, the child) to understand what the problem is. You can imagine that you are the other. Imagine how he feels, and what is going on in his life and you will be guided to the right questions to ask. Asking questions rather than giving advice may be difficult for some parents in the beginning. It is not easy, but most parents who have tried it have found it very effective and have been surprised by the results. In some cases where the parent is performing this technique mechanically, the child may be surprised and react negatively, especially if he has learned to receive continual criticism from the parent, in which case the child will be on guard. But if the parent persists to show interest, and stops criticising, at some point the child will open up. One must also be sensitive about the correct time and place to approach the child. Also a child must never be pushed against his will into discussing something which he does not want to. Eventually his need to come close to us will help him to open to us, if we accept the child as he is.
5) We may also affirm whether or not what we have understood from the child’s communication is correct. This technique is used by a whole school of psychologists to help a person open up and get clarity about what he is feeling. We simply repeat back to the child what he is telling us in our own words. This helps us to verify that we have understood what he is saying, and helps him to feel that we are accepting what he is saying. If he feels that we have not understood, he will try to explain to us in a different way. This will help both the parent and the child become more clear about what is bothering the child, or about what he thinks or feels.
These techniques for effective communication can do much to bring harmony and love to our relationships with our children. It is important that parents get started with this system immediately. No child is too young to understand this type of communication. Because these techniques require a whole new way of thinking and communicating, we suggest that parents and teachers or any individuals who want to master them, seek out seminars which teach these methods with practical workshops. Remember that the basis for all successful communication is love. Below you will find various examples of effective communication for various situations with children.
A CHILD WANTS TO GO TO THE MOVIES
A child keeps pleading to be taken to a movie, but he 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. These are serious accusations which will undermine the child’s self-image. The parent would do better to communicate with an I- message. But in order to do that, he will have to carry out some self-analysis to see what his deeper feelings are. What might a parent feel in this situation? He may feel disappointment, disrespect, hurt, taken advantage of, failure to control his child, anger, the need for revenge or other emotions, depending on his programming. Thus, 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 which 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 parent’s respect, love and concern through it, and will feel the same for the parent.
THE BLARING STEREO
A child is playing his records so loud that the parents in the next room cannot communicate with one another. An angry parent may likely say, «Can’t you be more considerate of others? Are you deaf? Why do you play that so loud?» Would we talk that way to our next door neighbour if he were playing the music that loud? Would we talk that way to our colleague, our boss, 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 neighbour who was playing music loudly (especially if he is bigger than you). 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 other’s 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 the music at. 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 ‘m 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 ‘m asking you to do? Do you feel pressured 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 wilful cooperation from the child, while respect between parent and child is mutually maintained. Although most parents feel great love for their children, they are 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. Let us look at a few more examples of communication with children.
A NOTE FROM THE TEACHER
A twelve-year-old is sent home by a teacher with a note stating that he was speaking loudly, using «filthy» language. What might be the parents’ reaction? One might be, «Come here and explain to me why you want to embarrass your parents with your dirty mouth». Another would be to simply punish the child with no discussion. Another might be to degrade the child’s image of himself by criticising him for his various mistakes and faults in general. All of these express to some extent the feelings which the parents may have. But they are not effective communication, because they do not express all the parents’ feelings and serve only to make the child feel badly, without offering any opportunity for understanding what the child’s problem is in reality. Obviously, the child has some need to speak in that way. He may have some problem or a need for attention or recognition. When the parent focuses only on his own embarrassment and fear, and ignores what might be going on in the child at this time, he loses contact with the child and a communication breakdown begins to take place between them. The child knows he has made a mistake, but he is unable to deal with the forces which cause him to act in this way. His way of speaking at school was either an outlet for some inner tension, or resentment, or an attempt for attention or recognition. The parent would do better to discuss his feelings about the situation with the child and try to help the child to open up so that he may discover what is going on in the child’s mind. A possible communication might be something like this:
«John, I have a strong need to talk about this note with you. I am very concerned both for you and me. I am shocked and surprised, and I must admit a bit embarrassed in the eyes of others. But these are my problems. What concerns me most is that I also feel that maybe I have made some mistake in my attitude towards you. I feel somehow responsible for your behavior since I am your parent, and I wonder if I am doing a good job or not in bringing you up the way I do. I would like to try to understand.Please explain to me the events which happened at school and what was that made you feel the need to speak loudly and in that way. I would also like to know if there is something that I do which has contributed towards your feeling that you must express yourself in that way. I would also like you to tell me if there is anything that I can do to help you to feel more comfortable and happier».
The child may or may not open up. He may or may not be able to understand consciously what his problem is. In most cases, with the help of active listening the child will come to an understanding of what is going on within him.
THE MESSY HOUSE
A mother arrives home tired and upset after a variety of activities out of the house. Upon entering the house she finds everything to be in a mess. She had asked the children to keep the house clean because there would be visitors coming home that evening. What kind of message might she give? Of course she will feel disappointed, let down, ignored, rejected, the victim, and, most likely, upset and angry. She might blame the children for being so inconsiderate, irresponsible, for not loving her, for not respecting her. This type of blaming will simply reinforce in the children’s minds the idea that they are as she has described them – not okay, not responsible and not to be trusted. They will then continue to be just that way. A possible communication might be something like this:
«Children, come and sit down. I want to explain to you some things which are very important to me. I feel very disillusioned this moment. On the one hand, I feel let down. I was counting on your remembering my request that you be careful and keep the house clean and tidy. I am tired and I am worried about receiving these guests this evening. It is important for me that the house be clean when they arrive but I am too tired to do it at this moment. I also doubt whether I am bringing you up the right way when I see, at times like this, that you do not consider my requests for help and cooperation. I understand that when you play it is easy to forget such requests, but I ask you to try harder in the future, because I need your help. Now, I would be interested in your suggesting some way by which we can avoid this happening in the future». After a discussion takes place as to how such situations could be avoided in the future, the mother can ask the children to now please help her by putting the place in order and cleaning up so that she can relax and get ready for the guests who are coming. The key to effective communication is to look into ourselves and think about what we are really feeling and express that clearly and openly to the other, without hiding anything and without blaming or hurting the feelings of the others. After expressing how we feel, we always give the other person a chance to express his or her feelings on the subject.
THE DAUGHTER ARRIVES HOME LATE
Although their daughter agreed to be home by 12 midnight, she arrives at 1.30 in the morning. The parents are extremely worried that something may have happened to her and are quite relieved when she finally gets home. What kind of message might they give to the child? They might express their anger at her disobedience and reject her for being inconsiderate and irresponsible. They might threaten her and punish her with the hope that she will obey out of fear in the future. Such methods of communication, however, may simply hurt the daughter’s feelings and create a sense of separation from the parents, along with a feeling of injustice and of being misunderstood by her parents. Obviously in this case both parents and daughter have the right to feel what they feel. The question is not who is right but how they can communicate harmoniously and each fulfil their needs without harming the other. A possible communication might be something like this: «Maria, please sit down. We have a great need to discuss with you how we feel about you coming home at 1.30 in the morning, when we had agreed that you be here by midnight. We have been extremely worried during the last hour and a half. All kinds of possible dangers have passed through our minds as we were waiting for you. We love you very much and would not like any harm to come to you. We still feel responsible for your health and well-being, and would find it difficult to forgive ourselves if anything happened to you. We would feel that we had been irresponsible in our roles as parents. It is extremely important for us that we come up with a formula with regard to your evenings out, which would be agreeable to both you and us. We want you to be happy in your life but also have a need to feel that we are performing our role as parents correctly and that we are protecting you as well as we can. We also need to feel that we are bringing you up in the right way. When you do not respect your word, we worry about whether we have failed, as parents, to teach you to honour your word. We are interested in hearing from you what happened and why it is that you did not come back by midnight; also, how you believe we should act in this situation. We would like to hear your suggestions as to how we can find a formula for future times when you go out. It is very important for us that we know when you will be arriving and can be sure that you will be here at that time»» The discussion can then go back and forth as the parents alternate between I-statements concerning our feelings and needs and active listening, in which they listen to the needs of the daughter, until they find some suitable solution.
THE CHILDREN ARE FIGHTING OVER A GAME
The following example could be one in which children are fighting over any subject or situation. When a parent sees his children fighting over a toy, a game, TV program, or any other object, he feels great inner conflict. He feels that both of his children are a part of himself, so when they are fighting, it is as if two parts of his own being are fighting. He may feel that he is failing as a parent to create harmony in his home. He may feel guilt for that. He may feel angry towards one of the children who is acting more egotistically. He may play the role of the judge and persecutor. He may punish one or both children, without discussion concerning his deeper feelings or his conflict in general. A possible example of communication might be: «Children, please come and sit down. I want to express to you how I am feeling at this moment, as I am watching you fight. Each of you is equally a part of me. I feel so connected with you that whatever happens to you is like it is happening to me. When you fight with one another, I feel great inner conflict. I feel confused. I do not know what to do. I do not want to take sides. I want you both to be happy. I do not know what is the way to make you stop. Maybe you could help me so we may together discover what I could do to help you, so that I do not get into conflict about this. This will be useful for all of us. There will certainly be times in your life, in which you will come into conflict with others around you; this will help us all to see how we can handle such conflicts in a different way. I would like each of you to think about what it is that you wanted and could not get from the other, which caused you to get angry and to fight in that way. Each will take turns to express what his problem was and we will keep going around until all of us have said whatever we need to say. I ask that only one rule be kept: when someone is talking, that we do not interrupt him but let him conclude that which he is trying to say. If we disagree with him, we can have a chance later to express it. Now, let us begin». After each child has had a chance to express his feelings and opinions, and the opportunity to speak has gone around the circle a number of times and everything has been said, then the parent can ask for possible solutions as to how they can structure their lives and routine of living so as to avoid similar conflicts in the future. All of these solutions can be written down and then discussed. Eventually a combination of the various ideas can be adopted for a trial run to see how it works. This group method of «brainstorming» for solutions to group problems had the advantage that each person feels that his ideas and needs have been respected in the creation of the solution. Even if his needs are not 100% met, he feels that at least he has been heard and considered and respected and allowed to participate. Thus his cooperation will be much greater and from the heart. Eventually the parent can close by asking the children how they would like the parent to act in such situations, if the children, in spite of their efforts, come into conflict again for some reason or other. The basic obstacle towards such a way of handling conflicts between children is, on the one hand, the lack of time on the part of the parent and, on the other, the lack of ease the parent feels in handling such conflicts. We must learn that conflicts are natural in a world in which we all have different needs and different ways of seeing things. We tend to avoid talking openly about conflicts, which just makes them recur more and more often, because they are never brought out into the open and be solved. Many times conflicts occur about superficial or unimportant matters, when the real problem is about something else which has never been discussed. Handling conflicts in this open and honest way gives us a chance to deal with the real personality problems which are behind these superficial conflicts.
Communication is a lost art, one which must be regained through practice and by breaking free from the ineffective patterns which we have learned from our parents and from society. Effective communication is a process of being constantly aware of what we are really feeling, and expressing it openly and honestly without blaming the others for what we feel. The other aspect of communication is to understand what the other person is feeling and thinking. Without mutual love, respect, understanding and atmosphere of equality, there can be no effective communication. I again encourage parents, wishing to become more efficient in their communication skills, to take seminars on communication, in which they can practice those techniques under guidance. It is never too late to make the change. A parent might be 70 and the child 50 and they may still be caught up in the same old ego games they were 40 years ago. They would do well to free themselves of these obstacles to love and unity, and thus happiness.