Pointers For Pleasanter Parenting
Parents don’t generally recognize they have the power to set the tone in their interactions with their children. More often it’s the kids who set the tone, especially through whining and fussing, setting everybody on edge. Yet, it’s the parent’s tone, expression, and body language that kids respond to. Words mean little, by comparison. But it’s the tone that upsets or soothes, whether parents or children. And it’s an angry, threatening, rising tone that children react negatively to, no matter how much we may try to help or reason with them. And it’s by giving vent to frustration anger and rage and imperiousness that parents commonly defeat their best efforts to control and teach and train their child.
The bottom line requirement of effective parenting, then, is for the parent to learn how to manage their tone – even when upset with the child. This is hard to do, but is a skill that can be learned and makes a tremendous difference, not only in the results we get with our children, but in the reduction of tensions within the household. And as we start controlling our tone, it becomes self-reinforcing because of the good results we start getting, suddenly making parent-child relations much more pleasant.
The key to managing tone of voice is to consciously do so; to refuse to argue, and to withdraw from discussion when it starts getting heated. Also, not to take provocations personally; not to engage in self-defeating power struggles with the child; not getting sucked into negotiating what is non-negotiable; to be firm and clear and specific, and follow through on what we’re asking children to do, communicating at their level after securing their attention, and checking for understanding. And by physically controlling them instead of yelling when the child is emotionally out of control, talking it over later when the child has regained control.
Also, allowing the child emotional expression. This is generally the hardest thing for parents to do. Empathetic understanding helps a lot. This means being able to see the child’s point of view and why they’re feeling and behaving as they do, even if we don’t like or agree with what they’re doing. Because it’s kids’ sense of being misunderstood and uncared about that feeds tantrums most strongly.
None of this is easy or comes naturally. And unfortunately, this kind of communication is not generally taught. But it is very important and useful in most any kind of relationship, including in parenting, on the job, and in marriage. And it’s a skill most counselors and therapists are taught and love to teach – which can be a great resource to consider if you want some coaching in this.