We communicate all the time, with everyone, it’s natural (for most people) and part of our lives.
We don’t always think about how we communicate though. It can be very easy to communicate in a way that doesn’t give the intended message, or isn’t helpful to the other person. I’ve spent years as a Senior Manager dealing with staff who communicate in unhelpful ways. I was one of them (a poor communicator) before I realised how important communication was and what a difference it makes.
Our style of communication can have a significant impact on the other person. For example if they are upset and you empathise it can be helpful, however if you shouted at them it could make them feel a lot worse.
One of the key things I have learnt over the years is the need for us as individuals to feel heard. We want to know that someone is listening to us. They don’t need to agree with us, but they do need to listen.
Over the past few years I’ve realised just how important this is with children. For an adopted child it is likely that they never felt heard (they may have tried to make sure they never were heard). Whether that was their birth family or those who have looked after them subsequently. They may have been moved between carers without any discussion or warning. That would be hard as an adult to deal with. As a child who has already experienced a lot it must be very difficult.
As parents we often feel that we are listening to our child, but are we showing them we are listening with our responses? It can be very easy to listen and then in our response effectively ignore or undermine what the child has said. I say that as a parent who has definitely done it (and still does occasionally!). Here’s an example:
Child: ‘Mum, Marcus wasn’t nice to me today at school’
Mum: ‘Just forget about it’
Whilst we don’t mean to be dismissive and are probably meaning to be supportive, that response isn’t acknowledging how the child is feeling or that you have even heard what they said and is effectively ending the conversation. A different response might look like:
Child ‘Mum, Marcus wasn’t nice to me today at school’
Mum ‘Marcus wasn’t nice to you at school today?’
Child ‘no ….’
This response shows them you heard and opens the door for the conversation to continue.
By repeating what they have said you are showing your child you heard them. You are not agreeing or disagreeing, just acknowledging what they’ve said. It can often help to take the anger out of situations as well, and can help to de-escalate situations. Here’s an example:
Child ‘I hate you, I wish you weren’t my mum’
Mum ‘you hate me and wish I wasn’t your mum’
This response acknowledges what they’ve said and shows you’re listening. When things like this are said, it’s often out of anger or fear and that acknowledgement can make a lot of difference.
When I was first told about this technique I’ll be honest I was sceptical and worried I’d say like a parrot or make things worse. In fact, usually the opposite happened. It felt strange the first few times I did it and my change in response clearly surprised my son, but over time it worked and has been part of changing our relationship. He knows I listen to him now and that can only be a good thing, even when I don’t agree.
Do try this and let me know how you get on. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask, I’m here to help.
P.S. this way of communicating works with everyone, not just children, so if you’re struggling with someone else try it with them as well.