Yesterday afternoon I had a learning experience that taught me a few things. First, I appreciated how my wife was assertive enough to ask directly for my help. There was no statements like, “I wish you could come help me,” or “A little help! …” or “get off your butt…” I was actually in the middle of writing when I heard my wife say “I need your help.”
Now to put this into context, I need to share that in the morning I made a comment about a Facebook post for a new book, No Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel M.D. I have not read the book, but I am familiar with other writings from Dan Siegel and have been impressed with his insight from the brain research that is out there. The Facebook post was from a Time post reviewing his book. The hook is that “time-out” techniques aren’t helpful and can cause problems for families and children. I actually have used timeouts with some degree of effectiveness and I have coached parents to use it on occasion. I generally agree however, that isolating a child can be risky for his or her own emotional well-being. The point behind timeouts was that they are supposed to be brief and interrupt a behavior pattern, but they sometimes become part of a pattern and thus become part of the problem.
So there I was walking my nephew back to the house thinking how I would “discipline” him after taking off without telling us where he was going or asking to go somewhere. Lecturing isn’t the best alternative to spanking or timeouts either. So I focused on what I wanted him to learn. I did this by acknowledging what he was trying to do. (He wanted to go to the park.) Then I explained calmly the effect he had on me and my wife when we didn’t know where he went. He was mostly unresponsive to this and was notably uncomfortable. I was looking for an acknowledgement and commitment from him that he would let us know where he was going or ask if he can go somewhere. He wouldn’t speak, only whine a little and tried to get off my lap on the couch. It was a stalemate while my wife waited with Ginger and my daughter. I suggested to them that they go ahead to the park and when my nephew would let me know he was willing to let us know where is at so we can feel better about him being at the park then I would bring him. As they started to walk away he became a bit more troubled so I asked him again, in simple terms if he would just ask or let us know where he was going so his aunt feels like she can take him to the park. With this he committed to communicate with us. I praised him and expressed confidence in his ability to follow through.
My intent with sharing this story was to point out five principles of communication:
1. Clear, concise, direct communication (from my wife to me and from me to my nephew) is super helpful.
2. Acknowledging (emotion, intent) to sidestep defensiveness and entrenchment and build understanding.
3. Ask for a commitment or action.
4. Follow-through and be willing to deal with natural consequences. I was willing to sit with my nephew instead of write this blog until my wife returned from the park.
5. Reassure and repair the relationship.
Now my invitation to you is to focus on at least one of these principles (relevant to you) and practice it. If you don’t have a child at home or at all, pick a principle and apply it in a way that works for you. Practice…