Tag Archive for complaints

KISS–Keep It Short & Simple

I had worked with Joe and his family for several months. During those months, I had watched the same scenario repeat itself over and over. Every time Joe did something, his mother lectured. It didn’t matter if he told his mother a lie or asked for help with a problem, she would respond the same way…with a lecture. Joe always responded the same way, too. As soon as she pointed her finger in his direction and said, “Joseph, you know…,” he tuned out. His eyes glazed over and he stared into space with a blank expression on his face. I know Joe’s mother had good intentions. She wanted Joe to learn from his mistakes. She wanted to share her wisdom. When he had a problem, she wanted to offer an instant solution. Unfortunately, lecturing did not accomplish any of her goals. Instead, Joe felt like she never listened. He felt disrespected and unheard. After a while, he simply tuned her out and quit listening.
I don’t know about you, but I get the same urge as Joe’s mother. I want to offer a wise solution, a quick answer to my child’s problem, or a quick and effective response to my child’s misbehavior. I hear myself beginning to lecture and see my child’s eyes glaze over. There has to be another way, a more effective way to get the point across. In fact, there is a better way. Here are three more effective ways to respond to your children’s request for help or misbehavior that needs correction.
     ·         Ask questions. If your children ask you to help them solve some problem, ask questions. Ask them to explain what they know. Ask them where they get stuck. Ask them if there are any other similar problems they have already completed. Sometimes they will figure the problem out as they explain it to you. If not, you might begin to ask “What if” questions. “What if you tried this?” or “what if you tried that?” When they misbehave, you might ask them, “Is that the way a young man/lady behaves?” or “Is that the behavior we expect in our home?” Doing so encourages them to slow down, think, and problem solve with you.

·         Allow them to experience the “consequences of their actions.” Most actions have a natural consequence. Some actions have enjoyable consequences, some have negative consequences. Either way, let your child enjoy the nice consequences of positive behavior and learn from the negative consequences of inappropriate behavior. If they waited until the last minute to do their homework and now struggle to understand the problem, let them struggle with that discomfort. Perhaps they will start earlier next time. If they consistently get up late for school, escort them into the building late. Inform the principal that your child is late due to not getting out of bed on time and explain you understand there will be consequences. Let your children see you support those consequences, the natural result of breaking reasonable limits. Yes, it is difficult to watch our children suffer consequences. However, by allowing them to suffer smaller consequences today, we teach them to avoid the harsher consequences of major misbehavior in the future.

·         When you do have to give more direct answers and suggestions, remember that children, and many stressed out teens, are concrete in their thinking. They cannot follow the abstract reasoning or rambling emotion making up a lecture. They need simple, short and sweet, statements. Throwing too much information at children will simply overwhelm them. They may get frustrated or angry as they see your emotion but still cannot understand the content of your speech. So, slow it down. Offer one piece of information at a time. Make sure they understand that information before you add more to it. You may even find it helpful to write down each point…or use something object to represent each point. This will allow your child to build their understanding of the problem and the solution, brick by brick.
Our lectures are really knee-jerk reactions to our fear. We do not want our children to suffer. We want what is best for them; and, when that seems threatened, we jump into a lecture. However, by using the three ideas above, you will find that you accomplish your goal more quickly and effectively. You will enjoy watching your children grow. And, you will enjoy missing out on the frustration of feeling unheard in the midst of a lecture.

Help! My Teen Lies to Me!

Yes, it is true. Teens lie. Teens argue. Teens often want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be given the freedom of independence while relying on their parents’ supportive cash for gas money and money to go out with friends. It is a very confusing time—for teens and parents. As parents, we want what is best for our teens. We hope they will accept the wisdom of our experience as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, they do not always heed our words…at least not to our faces. So, when it comes to dealing with teens, here are a couple helpful ideas.
The most common reason teens give for not telling the truth or for withholding the truth from parents is to “protect my relationship with my parents.” In other words, they fear that the truth will cause distance in the parent-child relationship. They do not want to hurt us. Some parents believe that being more permissive will result in more truth-telling. It does not. Teens who have permissive parents actually lie more! They believe that their permissive parent really does not care if they engage in various behaviors and will not do anything in response anyway, so why tell? Why hurt their feelings? Just don’t mention it…or, if forced to, lie.
Families with the least amount of deception, on the other hand, have clear, concise rules accompanied by reasonable and consistent consequences. Teens in these families know the rules and the consequences. Families that experience the least deception also have one more ingredient: parents who listen and make sure their teen feels heard before offering small concessions and compromises. “Wait…what? Did you say concessions and compromises? But I am the parent…my rules go in this house!” Remember, our teens are becoming adults. They have to learn how to manage their own behavior. As we honor them with our listening ears and show them the grace of small compromises and concessions, they grow in their ability to recognize potential consequences and make wise decisions independently. A little bit of flexibility will go a long way in decreasing teen deception and increasing teen maturity. So, teens who lie the least have parents who set clear rules, consistently enforce those rules, and also find opportunities to make some compromises with their maturing teen.
Using this style of parenting does have some side effects (stated in the soothing voice of one announcing medication side effects on various TV commercials). Having clear rules that are consistently enforced may result in increased arguing and complaining. In fact, those families with the least amount of deception often had a higher rate of arguing and complaining. That is great! No really, it is great. A moderate amount of arguing between parent and teens (emphasize the word moderate) results in better adjustment than no arguing or frequent arguing. Arguing allows the teen to see their parent in a new light, to hear the argument for the rules clearly articulated and “reasoned out.” In the teens’ effort to become independent and take on “their own values,” they can listen to their parents articulate the rules they have grown up with before internalizing them as their own. In a sense, the teen who complains and argues is saying, “I know you have always kept this rule; but now I want to know why. Do you really believe it? What makes it such a good rule?” In the midst of this argument, teens assert their growing independence while exploring the values they have grown up with.
One last secret (don’t tell your teens). I often meet with parents who are at their wit’s end because they feel like their teen is not listening. I listen as they tell me what they have told their teen. I empathize with their frustration as they explain that their teen does not take their words of wisdom into account. Then I meet with the teen. In the midst of our discussion, their teen will often tell me exactly what their parents have said…and they say it as though it is their own idea. They have heard it. They even believe it; and, they are in the process of making it their own. They just can’t tell their parents about this and carve out their own independence at the same time. So, keep on listening. Keep on patiently enforcing the rules. Keep on discussing the rational of the rules and struggling to make appropriate concessions. Trust that your teen hears you. They are listening. And, hold on for the ride of your life on the teenage roller coaster. Your work will pay off…when the ride ends and your teen becomes an adult!

Relationship Training for Trouble Areas

Family relationships demand an investment of time. You practice the daily routine to strengthen the core muscles of relationship. The exercises noted in “the strength workout” focus on more specific skills and muscles necessary to strengthen relationships–becoming a student of the other person’s non-verbal communications and love language as well as learning to collect moments of emotional connection. Still, trouble areas arise. Areas where you want to develop more definition and long-term character to your relationship physique. Here are a couple of exercises that can help tone those trouble spots and enhance overall relationship strength. You may resist these exercises at first; but, they can truly benefit your family relationships.

The first exercise involves turning criticisms into compliments. It involves three steps.

1) To begin, identify something a family member did today that you found irritating…something you wanted to criticize. Perhaps you wanted to sit down to talk and your wife just had to clean the room instead…or you were trying to get dinner together and your husband was in the way talking about his day. Maybe your child was excitedly talking about something that happened in school while you were having a conversation on the phone with a client. Whatever the case, recall the behavior you found irritating, the behavior you wanted to criticize.

 2) Before you criticize that behavior, step back and look for any aspect of that behavior that you can appreciate. In the examples above, you may love that your wife keeps such a neat home or that your husband really does want to tell you about his day. You can rejoice that your child wants to share their excitement with you, a parent. Take time to personally appreciate that positive aspect of the situation. Enjoy what that means to you and your family.

 3) Finally, use that appreciation to offer that person a compliment. Go to that family member and tell them about the part you appreciate. Praise them for what they did.   Let them know how much it means to you that they exhibit that behavior you appreciate.  

 The second exercise sounds more simple, but can still prove challenging at times. It involves only one motion. That’s right, one single motion…smiling. Let your family see you smile. Smile when you greet family members. Let them see the twinkle of delight in your eyes when they walk into the room. Smiling when family members approach communicates acceptance, approval, and love. Sometimes you may not feel like smiling. You may feel irritated or tired. Practice smiling anyway. Let a smiling face full of delight and love be the first image that comes to mind when your family thinks of you.

The final exercise to build definition and address trouble areas involves lifting logs. This exercise also involves three steps.

1) When you find yourself in an argument with a family member, step back and lift the logs from your own eye instead of attempting to “win” the argument. Before you try to explain, justify, or defend your actions, take a private, honest look at your own motives, goals, and manner of expression. Consider your contribution to the argument. Think about any ways in which you instigate or perpetuate the conflict. Examine any underlying feelings such as fear or insecurity. (Intense anger within a family often hides a fear that the relationship is threatened or a strong desire for security and connection within the relationship.)

2) As you discover your underlying emotions, realize that your family members probably feel the same way. Consider how you can help meet that need in their life, even as you work to resolve a disagreement. (After all, you do love them.)

3) Then, return to the family member, logs removed, and calmly discuss the disagreement. As you can see, this exercise involves a great deal of practice, commitment, and discipline. However, the benefits in relationship development are tremendous.

 These three exercises can help you tone those trouble spots, develop more definition, and produce more long-term character in your relationship physique. 

To Change A Dance

People often get stuck in an unhealthy relationship dance. The dance may take many forms. Regardless of the form it takes, each partner plays a specific role. Some couples dance the “I chase while you hide” dance. Other couples dance the “I’ll do all the work and complain while you just sit around” dance. In both cases, they sing a rousing rendition of “Blame in Counterpoint.” Each partner blames the other for the mess they are in. You’ve at least heard some of the lines from the chorus: “Nag, nag nag—you never leave me alone.” “He never wants to talk.” “You’re so lazy and you don’t care about me at all.” “It doesn’t matter what I do, you are never satisfied.”

There is only one way to stop the music and change the dance. I know it may sound simplistic—even cliché, but…. At least one person in the couple has to quit the old dance and start a new one. That may sound too simple, but it’s true. It may not sound fair, but such an act of grace can lead to change. If you choose to take this grace challenge and change the dance, your partner will do everything they can to maintain the old step. They will sing the “Blame in Counterpoint” even louder. They will step heavier and try to force you back into the movement of the old dance step. With everything in you, you must resist and continue the new step until they change, too. You have to show the grace to continue the new “Dance of Love” until they get in step.

How can you begin the new dance step? Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Stop singing “Blame in counterpoint” and sing “The Prelude of Love” instead. “The Prelude” begins with telling your partner 1-2 things you love about them… everyday… even when you’re angry.
  • Carefully consider your part in the old dance. How do you respond to your partner? How do you provoke them? Are you the one who chases or the one who hides? The one who compulsively works or the one who sits around?  Once you can admit your part in the old dance, you can decide on a different response—a different dance step. When your partner starts the old dance, practice your new steps.
  • Find some healthy relationship dances to observe. Or, read a book about healthy relationships.  Learn from the healthy dances you see and read about. Take the time to clearly describe what you like in those healthy relationship dances. The better you can describe the kind of dance you want to have, the more likely you are to act accordingly.
  • Things may not change overnight. You might make mistakes. Don’t get discouraged. Simply recognize that it happened and start the healthy step again. Use those moments to reaffirm your love for one another by renewing your new, healthier dance.
  • Finally, sing new music. Three of my favorites are “A Harmony of Praise,” “Variations on Gratitude,” and “Encouragement in E flat Major.”  Sing the songs often. Sing them loudly… and enjoy the “Dance of Love.”

The Power of Words

Napoleon once remarked that “four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Indeed, words are powerful. I always wondered who said that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Whoever they were, they were wrong. Words may not break bones, but they can break someone’s spirit. Of course, they can lift someone’s spirit as well. Words have the power to arouse strong emotions in us–emotions of joy or sorrow, anger or mercy, love or hate. Just adding a single word to a sentence can change the meaning and consequence of that sentence. Take “but” for example. When a loved one tells us “I love you” we are filled with joy. However, “I love you, but…” leaves us fearful and worried about the security of our relationship with them. When a friend says, “I like your shirt” we feel good, maybe even more confident. However, if they say “I like your shirt, but…” we suddenly become self-conscious and worried, not only about our shirt but our overall appearance. And, we all hate to hear someone respond to our world changing idea by saying “Yeah, but…”

Yes, words are powerful. Our words can honor or dishonor those who hear us. They can heal the spirit or crush the spirit. Honoring words build others up. Dishonoring words tear others down. “Honey, I really appreciate all your work around the house” honors; “Honey, it’s about time you did something around here” does not. Telling our children “You didn’t put your clothes away yet-when do you plan to do it” honors them. Telling them “You are such a slob; you never put your clothes away” dishonors them with name-calling and character assassination. Constructive criticism given in love honors; harsh criticism shouted in anger dishonors. Encouraging words honor. Compliments honor. Polite words, like “thank you,” “please,” or “your welcome,” honor. Rude words dishonor.

Tim Hawkins’ satirical song, “Things You Don’t Say to Your Wife,” (click on picture) humorously describes many dishonoring statements a man might say to his wife. It’s a funny song. Have a good laugh as you listen. But, when the music ends, consider…do your words honor or dishonor your family?

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