As humans, we exist to be in relationship with one another and yet here’s the rub. Every day I hear about good friends falling out. On a granular level if you are parent, how often do you find yourself shouting at your kids and regretting it? One of my friends was telling me recently that her daughter keeps quoting the NSPCC’s Childline number to her and threatening to call them! Shows great initiative and it made me smile and yet why are our relationships with our children not optimal? In this article, I explore what lies behind miscommunication in families and offer a way through that is based on research. Whilst this is about parenting, you can see the same things happening in business which is why companies employ consultants like us to come in work with their people and turn them into high performing teams. People laugh at all the behaviours that they see on the Apprentice and of course they are exaggerated to increase the entertainment value for the Public; AND these kinds of things go on all the time.
Change can happen instantly and in other areas, it is very slow. A great example of this comes from a study of the seasons. Currently in the UK we are experiencing a very mild autumn; the first signs of winter are only just beginning to come. It is November and yet the sun is shining and many trees still have their beautiful russet gold leaves. Every morning I appreciate that even though the car windscreen is misty, it is not yet frozen solid with ice. That means we can leave about 5 minutes later and still get to school on time.
Two factors that cause miscommunication
How often are you in a hurry? If you have children how busy is their schedule each week? One client told me recently about her week and I really did not know how she got through it. She works full-time and then helps out with at least two of the organisations where children do after school clubs. On one day she has about 15 minutes to fit dinner in. This is madness. One thing we do is have a busy morning before school so that we can adopt a more relaxed pace after school when the girls are more tired.
Of course it is good to expose your children to a range of different activities. You want them to find out what they love doing; to excel at something or at least enjoy an activity, as it is a great way to build their confidence. AND yet everybody needs those “scratch your bottom” moments. Otherwise you will get exhausted with the constant round of ferrying, as will your kids and then there will be conflict. You are not a machine, you are a human being. If you are always rushing around it is hard to be present and in the now.
As a parent how often do you feel guilty about how you have treated your children? After shouting at them, you feel a range of conflicting emotions, your energy levels are at an all time low and there’s that voice in your head that starts telling you off. That internal voice may even sound like your Mum. You feel waves of shame at how you behaved. This kind of emotion is so debilitating: it can be crippling. When you feel like that, what do you do? Do you withdraw because you feel so uncomfortable or do you go on the warpath to distract yourself from how you really feel?
It is through sharing emotions that we build connections with others. Good communication is only possible when we are aware of our own emotions. That only happens when you give yourself time to self-reflect and build that awareness.
So often with clients, I find that they try to rationalise their feelings. If you break down that word, rationalise, you get its real meaning: rational lies. It is so important to get out of your head and tune into how your body feels about whatever’s happening. As Bob Samples (1976) quoting Einstein wrote:
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
As a parent the more can communicate the rich inner world of your feelings to your children, the stronger the attachment you will have with them and the better they will be at developing close, intimate relationships during their lifetime. This sounds easy and yet many find intimacy challenging and scary at first.
I encourage you to read Philip Wade’s beautiful post about Intimacy as he explains why years of conditioning are what makes intimacy so challenging. His definition of intimacy is so powerful in to me see. The eyes are windows onto the soul. So the first exercise I am going to encourage you to do is to look deeply into the eyes of another. See how long you can hold their gaze and notice everything you experience. How difficult was that?
Every time you resonate with your child’s emotions, your child experiences herself as “good.” Siegel and Hartzell describe emotion as “the process of integration that brings self-organisation to the mind….integration may be at the heart of a sense of well-being, within ourselves and in our relationships with our children and others.”
In can be really hard to relate emotionally to your children because it requires mindful awareness of your own internal state as well as being open to understanding and respecting your child’s state of mind. That requires a huge amount of awareness. You become more aware of your own internal state when you pause and reflect on it; just acknowledge what’s going on and journal about it too. Below are seven steps to better communication with your children:
- Pay attention to your emotional field: notice your feelings, your physiology and other nonverbal signals
- Alignment: allow your own state of mind to align with that of another
- Empathy: be open to another’s point of view and experience by remembering that everyone is right but only partially
- Verbalising: allow your inner world expression outwardly in a respectful way
- Participation: Join in the give and take of communication so there is balance of sharing and listening
- Curiosity: we all use words in different ways so be sure to check what the other person means by asking questions
- Diversity: Remember there is joy in the uniqueness of each individual’s form of expression – infinite diversity in infinite combinations
Remember children only model what they see. To be a conscious parent you need to practise great self-care. There are a couple of places on my forthcoming mindfulness retreat weekend, 21 and 22 November, where we will be really getting into this space of conscious communication. Afterwards you will feel more at ease with intimacy and you will be able to build greater intimacy with others including yourself. You can find more details here and get in touch to book your place.