By Dr. Charles Sophy
Keep 'Em Off My Couch
As parents, we strive to address all of the questions asked by our children. If we don't have the answer, or don't like the question, we would never think of ignoring the child. We do not accept improper communication as acceptable behavior. Most parents, however, are quick to excuse or overlook the behavior of their child when he / she reacts the same way and are often left wondering when the lines of communication broke.
Picture this: Five year-old Jason is riding home from school with his father. Jay's favorite CD, the Shrek soundtrack, is in the player and while he usually sings along, today he doesn't appear to be paying attention to it. Two blocks away from their house, they pass the softball field where a game is in progress. Dad announces "Jay, when we get home, you're going to need to clean-up all the toys on the floor in your room. We wouldn't want anyone to fall." Jay doesn't respond. Dad knows that cleaning up toys is one of Jay's least favorite activities so he waits a few moments and tries again. Still no response.
In the pause between tracks on the Shrek CD, Dad tries to get Jay's attention again by simply speaking louder, keeping his tone warm and pleasant. And again, his comment is met with no acknowledgement from his child. Turning on to their street, Dad loses his patience and raises his voice, barking a command that Jay is to march straight to his room and clean up his toys "for the fourth time!" Jolted to action, Jay rushes out of the car when they return home and heads straight to his room, not emerging until dinner time. The interaction between Jay and his father is the result of a non-verbal agreement between them. Reinforced by previous similar exchanges, Jay's parents have fostered an environment where they have tolerated his lack of response to their directions, and he has learned that his lack of communication is acceptable behavior.
Children are by nature easily distracted and not always responsive to their environment. It is the responsibility of the parent to emphasize positive patterns of communication and ensure the child learns that ignoring communication is not acceptable. Early prevention, in the form of educating your child about the proper forms of communication, is the key to ensuring that the non-verbal agreement does not take hold.
If your child has already grown accustomed to this style of communication, here are some essentials to assist you in addressing the situation:
Talk: To your child, and explain to them in age-appropriate terms how they are communicating and why it doesn't work.
Show: Your child how to communicate effectively, even when the questions are hard. Role-play a conversation to show them a more effective way to communicate.
Practice: Be sure you are aware of yourself and the way in which you communicate to others. Children model adult behaviors. Be sure you are not guilty of poor patterns of communication with your spouse or parenting partner.
Be Consistent: Be constant in the manner in which you communicate with you child. Send the same message with each and every interaction. Allow your child to see that you will call their attention to those times that the unwanted behavior rears its ugly head.
Remember: Kids will be kids and they will sometimes be distractive and non-communicative. You are the expert in knowing your child's behavior and can best judge the improvement in their communications. The best way to ensure healthy communication patterns is to model positive communication skills.
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