by Kathryn Streeter
With all the confrontation and strife around us, who doesn’t wish for a more peaceful world? I’ve watched people become embroiled in polarizing issues and hope that they’re paying attention to the sphere of influence where they are in control. As one concerned parent, I’ve decided to look first into the place where I can directly stir-up peace: my own home. Here are some straightforward tips to help encourage other parents in the realm where they hold significant influence.
Resist yelling around the house, no matter the size of your home. Walk into the next room and talk face-to-face with your child.
With her characteristic transparency Lori Borgman, grandmother of eleven, syndicated columnist and author of, “I Was A Better Mother Before I Had Kids” pleads guilty to sometimes raising her voice around the home. But, she says, that though it may be momentarily expedient, in the long run, it’s “a horrible habit to develop”. So, if we mess up from time to time, don’t give in. Work intentionally—like Borgman does—to prevent this oops from morphing into a hardened habit.
“Face-to-face is always better,” Bellaire High School counselor Susan Childs told me. She continued, noting that when one person’s voice is raised, it’s reciprocated and pretty quickly, no matter the topic, the point of conversation is lost. Meredith Bodgas, mother and editor-in-chief of WorkingMother.com agrees that the message is affected by its delivery: “Get down on their level so you’re talking to them, not at them or above them. Not only will they may be more inclined to listen to what you’re saying but you’ll also be less inclined to raise your voice since you’ll be so close to their little face.”
Childs, who served as elementary counselor, then at HISD’s Pershing Middle School for two decades before landing in her current role, says that parents need to remember they’re not alone, that others experience the identical challenges with their children at home. “Most of us don’t live the perfect happy lives that are portrayed via social media.” Raising your voice around the home, a common offense, creates a loud environment, affecting the mood. Even with mundane, unemotional communications such as calling out to that it’s time for dinner, or time to leave for school, a raised voice colors the message with impatience, unhappiness and pressure. Plus, says Childs, it’s teaching our kids to do the same when they grow up. “It absolutely makes a difference in the kind of parents they become in the future.”
It’s tempting, but no interrupting or finishing your kids’ sentences. Be silent. Let them finish all their thoughts. It’s likely your kids will be more apt to return in kind and listen fully to you.
As a counselor, this tendency raises serious flags for Childs. “Let them have their own thoughts. If you finish their sentences for them, they’ll never learn to come up with their own way of expressing themselves. They’ll wait for you to do it for them. That carries on into other aspects of their life where they wait for you to fix things for them instead of them coming up with solutions.” The long-term effects are real, Childs is saying. But in the moment, Borgman begs the question, “Why do I think I need to do all the talking?” She wisely pulls parents toward being better listeners to get behind the words being spoken. “Listen for the unspoken question or concern behind the words.”
When you child asks a question or invites your opinion, weigh in, but be brief. Don’t say everything on your mind. Short and sweet will stay with them longer.
Bodgas addresses the need for two-way communication, suggesting asking your child: “What do you think?” after you’ve spoken. “It gives your kid a platform to civilly share what’s on his mind and allows for a difference of opinion, since you invited him to speak up. Both lead to healthy discourse.”
Childs says kids are often asking for something simple and, missing the point, we go way too deep. She uses the example of your child asking where kids come from, a question ensuring a parent’s flurry to unleash their rehearsed birds-and-the-bees speech, only to hear, “Oh, well, Bobby said he came from Cleveland.” This story illustrates the point that as parents we answer too fully, engaging our adult-brains when answering our children’s questions. Instead, Childs suggests, “Don’t elaborate too much unless they ask for more.” Use your sixth sense to feel them out, if they want to keep talking, otherwise, stop, Childs recommends.
Love is action-oriented. Show up on time. Don’t be late to pick your kids up or be the cause of leaving late for school. You are communicating your love when you show up on time.
It’s a matter of respect, Childs told me, to show up for your child when you say you will, no matter their age. Non-driving high schoolers feel it too. “It’s just rude to be late to a meeting, so why wouldn’t it be the same when we don’t show up for our kids?” Childs says. “As adults, we try not to be late and show rudeness, so why wouldn’t we do the same for our kids?”
Childs’ perspective is seasoned, informed and personal, coming from years of being on staff at various Houston schools. “Just don’t be late for your kids, not to mention that after-school staff has to wait –someone has to wait—with your child until you arrive. It’s a situation that snowballs.” She reminds us that our tardiness makes our child stand out, possibility embarrassed that an adult is having to wait with them. Speaking directly, Childs says, “Your disrespect is felt by child and school staff.”
Parents, Childs told me, are constantly searching for ways to help their children grow up to be respectful, kind, and hardworking members of society, but that kids’ first introduction to respectful behavior comes from us, repeating the adage, “It starts at home.” She counsels to do as we’d like our kids to do and, to make home a haven, a “place of calm for our kids.”
It’s not a simple world to navigate, for sure, and it’s certainly easy to get swept up in the latest flavor of controversy, without making forward progress. How sweet and satisfying it is, then, to watch how small changes around the home can yield disproportionately large results.
Kathryn Streeter writes for Houston Family Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.