Monday, February 3, 2014

You say this but they hear that

I believe that most adults are good people with the best intentions for kids. And yet, it's important to remember that while good intentions are necessary, they are not sufficient.

Sometimes our best intentions reap unfortunate and unintended consequences. Too often this is most evident when adults (mis)communicate with children.

Here's what this can look like:

If you are a parent or a teacher there's a good chance you've accidentally hurt your child or students in some small way. At home, I've accidentally walked into my daughter, stepped on her foot, and bumped her off the couch, while at school I've inadvertently hit a student in the head with a dodge ball, tripped another during tag and kicked yet another's chair while navigating around the classroom.

Sometimes these unfortunate incidents result in tears which can lead us to say something like, "You're ok."

Sometimes we say this because what we really mean is, "I want you to be ok." However, I fear the kids might hear, "You are not hurt".

It's predictable that things can go wrong between adults and children when our adult words are left up to a child's interpretation (which is all the time). Even when we are mindful, a child's misconceptions can run laps around us. When we are less than mindful with our words we can undermine our interactions.

Our best intentions are always trumped by the child's perception. We may want to be helpful and caring, but if the child perceives us as distant and dismissive then we are distant and dismissive. Whether we like it or not, people's perceptions are our realities -- and children are people, too.

How do we avoid "you say this but they hear that"?

Miscommunication isn't cured -- it's managed by mindfulness. If we want children to hear "I want you to be ok" instead of "You're not hurt" then we need to stop saying "You're ok" and instead say "I want you to be ok".

If we want to show that we care then we need to stop saying "You're ok" and start asking "Are you ok?". If we want to say sorry then we need to stop saying "You're ok" and start saying "Sorry".

Words matter.

So we need to think about what we want to say and actually say it, not just imply it. 

1 comment:

  1. This a great post for parents to read also, Joe. Really the message is to be mindful when speaking to our children, whatever the relationship. Too much "There, there": we'll steal from kids the ability to rebound; too little empathy and acknowledgement of hurt will blunt a child's ability to empathize - and worse damage. The message "I want you to be okay" and the capacity to say "I am sorry" on the part of adults in a kid's life will go a long way to a child's development of robust mental health and strong personality.

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