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Communication Challenge: Are Your Words Making or Breaking Your Child?

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Dr. Meg Meeker

During this time of quarantine when you are around your family possibly more than ever before, you’ve probably found yourself using harsher words than usual, raising your voice more often, or expressing exasperation at the expense of your child’s feelings. This is completely normal, considering the stress of this time, but since I have been posing challenges all month long, I think a Communication Challenge is critically important for this time.

With this challenge, I want you to focus on reframing your words from negative to positive. This is a simple change but requires thought and effort, as our default is often to point out the negative with our words or choose words of criticism rather than encouragement.

The reason your words are so important to your child is that your child is always wondering about one thing: How do you feel about me?

Children read their parents for clues about how they feel about them all the time. They do this because they have a primal need to connect with and feel loved by their parents.

Once they realize how you feel about them, they internalize those feelings and their identity takes shape.

Think back to when you were a child. If you felt loved by your mother or your father, your self-esteem soared, but if you felt rejected or shamed, you probably still live with that pain.

When we walk into a room, our kids watch our body language, listen to the tone of our voices, and hang on our every word. Why? To find out how we feel about them at any given moment.

If they feel loved, they may run out and play, do their homework, or ask you to go on a bike ride with them. If they feel unwanted, rejected, or unloved, they will hide from you and blame themselves for your feelings for a very long time.

When we speak positive words over our kids, they feel positive about themselves.

Use this summer as an opportunity to challenge how you communicate with your child. Take your negative turns of phrase and spin them in a new way by asking questions instead of making statements.

Here are a few examples:

When your child is complaining, instead of saying, “Stop whining,” ask, “What is bothering you?”

When your child is upset, instead of interjecting with “You’re OK,” try asking, “Are you OK?”

When your child has been on his phone for too long, instead of demanding, “Put your phone down,” ask, “What’s interesting on there? Can you take a break?”

This creates the type of safe environment your child craves, and it communicates to her that you are curious about her rather than annoyed or upset. This opens the door for conversation, tells your child she is loved, and helps moderate your temper—all things we desperately need in order to stay connected during this time.

So parents, have you accepted this challenge? Will you make your words count this summer? If you do, I assure you will see a change not only in your own heart and attitude but in your child’s as well.

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