As a coach, an important part of what I do is listening to language. Your words reveal the real you. Your language can be a clear indicator of your perspective and your state of mind, of what you are willing and unwilling to do.
Here are some phrases parents use that speak volumes, especially with challenging kids:
I’d rather you did/didn’t… I just want you to be happy… I wish she would…
Let’s pick these apart. When your child is less than cooperative and routinely gives you the business, what do these word choices mean?
I’d rather you did/didn’t… I really want you to do this, but I’m stating it as a preference. I’m hoping you’ll do it because I asked; because I hope you respect me; because I’m trying to be nice about asking you to do something you don’t want to do; because I REALLY DON’T WANT TO FIGHT WITH YOU.
The real you wants to be the good guy and to be liked. The real you avoids confrontation. The real you wants your child to ‘do the right and reasonable thing’.
Change “I’d rather you didn’t spend all afternoon on video games.” To “It’s one hour for video games. Do you want a reminder when you have 10 minutes left?”
(You are not alone here. I am a ‘recovering conflict avoider’. This is always a challenge, and with time, courage and practice it gets better.)
The real you is attached to outcomes.
I just want you to be happy. I could write an entire article about this one. Suffice it to say that, aside from being subjective, being happy all the time is impossible. Disappointment and sadness will happen. That’s a truth. And if they hear this regularly, your kids won’t know how to cope with unhappy. I believe this contributes to substance use and other self-harming behaviors. “If I’m not happy, what then? And that will make mom and dad unhappy, too. How do I make this go away?”
The real you wants so much for your children to be calm, satisfied, and to achieve without distress. The real you is afraid they will make mistakes, maybe life-changing mistakes. The real you is attached to the end result of everything they do.
Change “I just want you to be happy.” To “How can I support you? What do you want/need from me?”
Another important skill is to acknowledge and reflect their feelings. Unexpressed feelings will fester and make their anxiety worse. Giving voice to those emotions helps release that negative energy and clear space to think more clearly. You can be a safe place for them to vent. Listen carefully, reflect back, and don’t try to fix it for them.
I wish she would… I wish. This is passive language. While you can’t control another person, you can put boundaries in place and support them in healthy ways. (That means not doing everything for them or imposing your agenda on them.)
The real you wants compliance, but may be afraid to set that boundary because you anticipate an unpleasant response. The real you is reluctant to ask for what you want. The real you may want to protect your child, or push her in a direction that is what you want but is not necessarily best for her.
Change “I wish she would…” To “The dishwasher needs to be emptied.” “I need help with this.” “I see how important this is to you. What would help you right now?”
Pay attention to your words. They reveal a great deal about the real you, your desires and fears. With a little adjustment, you can be more confident and have a greater positive impact on your child and your relationship.
Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery. She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.
Learn more about coaching and classes at www.fernweis.com. And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit www.familyrecoverypartners.com.