"I asked you to clean up your room!"
"Put your things away, for the last time!"
Have you ever wondered why the things you say to your kids aren’t being done?
Do you feel like they are ignoring you on purpose?
These are frustrations parents can avoid quite easily – yes, really!!!
Here are 3 surprisingly easy steps to get the message to your child in a way that gives you the results you want:
Step 1: Get their full attention
First things first – we need to make sure we have their attention. If you want your child to listen, it’s really important to use their name to get their attention and make sure they are able to hear you. I know I have wasted my breath asking for something to be done when the kids are engrossed in their favourite TV show or playing some game on a screen (those screens!! yes, I know, but that’s a topic for another time!!)
Step 2: Identify the specific action you would like done.
Yes, we need to be clear about the message. No, that doesn’t mean louder!
It actually means being specific about what you would like your child to do.
When a child hears “Tidy your room”, the actions required around that are not necessarily clear for them. To them, it may look tidy already. Let them know exactly what they need to do to make the room tidy. That may include putting all the toys into the toybox, putting all dirty clothes in the laundry, making their bed: the specifics of what makes their room tidy are up to you. Remember to be clear and specific about what you are asking your child to do.
Step 3: Give them a timeframe.
Now, it could be argued that it wasn’t clear exactly WHEN you wanted that room to be tidied, or that game to be finished – we have to give them points for creative justification, right?! This means for the message to be received by your child and acted upon, it is also important to ask for the job to be done in a certain time frame e.g. “before bed”, “in the next 5 minutes”, or even “now…please”.
Which leads me to…
Step 4: ok, this step is an optional (but recommended) extra… Include a “please or ‘thank you”.
Our children learn respect from us by being treated with respect. We show them how it’s done when we say “please” and “thank you”. Make sure some of these words are in your request.
Taking this all into account, your request would sound something like this:
“Emily, before we leave today, please put all your toys in the basket, put your clothes away and close the drawers.”
Sometimes, we can change it around to appreciate what they will do in advance.
This can sound something like “ Tom, thanks for your help - it’s time to clear up the dinner dishes before I get some dessert ready.”
Perhaps you already do part of this, or even all of these things at different times. But to improve the way your child understands what is expected, make sure to first get their attention, be specific about the task, let them know the time frame and use a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in your message.
It can be a difficult thing to know what to say when you are speaking with someone whose loved one has recently passed away. You can feel tongue-tied and reach out for those little sentences that you may have heard other people say in the hope of bringing comfort.
But there are 3 things that are NOT helpful to the person in the middle of their pain and grief…
1.“I know exactly how you feel”
Let’s stop and think before this sentence rolls out. Each of us has a different relationship with death and dying, and the person who has passed away. The experience, intensity and process of grief and loss varies greatly. We do not know how they feel, but we can be of great comfort by listening, really listening. Hearing about their feelings, being ok with the tears and letting them know you care is the most helpful thing you can do.
We can think we are empathising to help them feel they are not alone, but saying you know how they feel is not helpful and it often leads to…
2. “My Mum/Dad passed away x years ago…”
Ok – stop right there! In just about every instance this is where the conversation gets hijacked to talk about you, your feelings, your relationship, your suffering x many years ago. The person in front of you, who is grieving, now has to listen to your story and empathise with your feelings of loss! Talking about an experience you had can feel like you are being understanding and compassionate, but take care not to turn it into a conversation about your experience of loss.
3. “At least they had a good innings”
Sometimes we hear that a friend’s parent or grandparent has passed away. Often, due to feeling awkward or uncomfortable, or not knowing what else to say, we will ask how old the person was. While that’s ok, the temptation to repeat the above chestnut can be great. Don’t do it! Your friend will not be comforted knowing that you think that was enough years for that person to have lived. It doesn’t help them feel better. Instead, you could ask them if they think the person had a good life, or ask if the person had been in pain or suffering with an illness. Perhaps reminisce with them about how much change they must have seen in the years since that person was born. Just don’t minimise the pain of grief your friend is feeling by declaring their loved one had enough time here on the planet.
Yes, it can be awkward. It can be confronting to talk about death and dying. It brings up issues of mortality, spirituality, fear and the unknown. But make sure you don’t avoid talking about it, as it is part of the healing process to acknowledge that their loved one has died. Don’t be afraid to bring it up because you think it may cause the person more pain. For your friend it is important and comforting that you offer your condolences and let them know you care.
When you are speaking with someone who has lost a loved one, the important thing is to put aside your own feelings of awkwardness or discomfort. Listen, and be present with the person in front of you.
It really is ok not to know what to say and that can actually be a great, honest starting point – “I’m so sorry to hear that and I really don’t know what to say. Are you ok? Can I help you in any way?”
Hear their individual story of grief and loss, or simply hold them while they cry.
You can’t fix it, but you can be of great comfort by giving the gift of your compassion and by being there to listen, acknowledge and validate their feelings.
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Do you have a child that you find you are constantly pulling up?
Or a partner that you criticise over small things, from morning till night?
It might be time to take a look at what type of relationship you are creating, and whether you are happy to continue that way.
Usually, people have their hearts in the right place and are actually aiming to help the person they are critical of, by pointing out the easier/better way to do/achieve something.
But somewhere along the line, the ‘helpful suggestion’ can turn into an unhelpful habit that characterizes the whole relationship. It can also become a substitute for deeper resentments or hurts that are not being acknowledged in the relationship.
Take an example of a mother and son who are constantly at loggerheads over the son’s personal hygiene. Or, a mother who is constantly annoyed at the son’s lack of personal hygiene. These are actually 2 different things!
By being able to recognize that your own set of priorities can be very different from someone else’s, can allow you to become clearer about what the issues really are.
So, a son’s infrequent hair-washing may not really mean he will never get a job and be an upstanding pillar of society! He may just not see squeaky clean hair as part of his necessary ablutions.
Does it really matter? Is it symbolic of something deeper for the mother? Is this the type of interaction that either person wants?
Get clear on what the conflict is actually about and thoughtfully approach those issues at a time when you are not angry or irritated.
3 steps to stop the criticism:
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor
It was a CRAZY afternoon with too many appointments, kid drop-offs and pick-ups to sport and what-not, topped off by a forgotten jumper we had to return to find and the fact that the neighbour had just called to say our chickens had escaped and were roaming the street - I was STRESSED!
Ideally we eat at around 7pm so the kids get to bed by 8.30-ish so they have proper sleep for their early starts, and I feel like an ok parent.
The time was already 8.15pm and we were just arriving home. My partner was working till very late and I hadn’t planned dinner at all (but I hoped there were some sausages in the fridge that were still in date!)
The kids found the chickens (alive!) but they could see the stress building up and about to turn me into a blithering, cranky, resentful and snappy mother. Perhaps you know the feeling?
Instead, I made a different choice.
“Let’s teach you how to BBQ”, I said to one.
“Be creative and make any salad you like out of the fridge”, I said to the other.
It wasn’t all plain sailing as the BBQ gas ran out after 5 minutes and we had to dash to the servo to get a refill. Normally this would have been the final straw…but by then, my attitude had changed. The kids were involved, we were solving it all together.
Dinner was wonderful, the salad was indeed creative and the sausages divine!
More delightful though, was the pride the kids felt in bringing this all together and how empowered they were by the experience.
By re-framing the situation from one where I was overloaded and heading for anger, to one where we all got to pitch in together, we were all able to actually enjoy the experience.
The tale is told in a different way to how it might have usually turned out… the kids now often ask to help with the BBQ and making the salad. They have greater independence, self-esteem and have learned some life skills.
Perhaps more importantly, they saw me make a different choice - rather than rushing to angry martyrdom, I asked for help and we made it work together.
Yes, they were very late to bed that night, but I actually felt like a good parent!
It’s a word that makes people uncomfortable.
It still carries a stigma of fear, sadness and, for some, even shame.
If we were more able to talk about the ‘s’ word openly we could help each other deal with isolation, depression, anxiety and provide support and a road to recovery.
Have you guessed?
Suicide kills almost twice as many Australians as the national road toll each year.
More than 3 million Australians are living with depression and/or anxiety today.
Of those people, more than half will not seek help.
While we can talk about the number of people dying on the roads and suffering and dying with breast and prostate cancer, as soon as suicide is mentioned, many of us look for ways to change the conversation. It can make us uncomfortable because we may be afraid, embarrassed, or feel out of our depth.
World Mental Health Day is all about raising the awareness of our engagement with those illnesses that affect our mental state. By being willing to talk about our own experiences, or situations we have known where other people have been affected by anxiety, depression, and, yes, suicide, we can remove that stigma, and open the way for people to let us know when they need help.
Suicide is something that many people consider as a way to make their emotional pain stop. Some people feel suicide is the only way they can escape their situation.
It can be daunting to ask someone if they feel suicidal, often for fear that the person may say “yes”. Then what?!
OK, if there is someone you know who seems isolated, depressed, overwhelmed, or behaving differently to their normal self, find an opportunity to ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide. It’s important not to beat around the bush, but clearly ask.
Don’t start off by saying “ You’re not thinking about doing something silly, are you?” Show the person you respect them and care about how they are feeling by saying something like “ Are you ok? I’ve noticed you are under a lot of pressure/ feeling low/ aren’t participating in things at the moment. Are you feeling suicidal?” or “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”
If the person isn’t suicidal, they simply say “No”, and are usually clear that that isn’t an option they think about. They do not feel offended and the conversation moves on quite naturally after that.
If the person says “Yes”, it is often accompanied by a sense of relief that they are able to talk about how serious their pain is, and the first baby step on the way to keeping them safe.
If you do know someone who is suicidal, stay with them, or arrange for someone else to be with them until you are able to get professional assistance from a doctor, counsellor or other mental health professional. Call Lifeline anytime on 13 11 14 if you need support with this.
Many people worry that asking the suicide question may put ideas into the person’s head. According to Lifeline, it is simply not the case.
It’s a question that Lifeline telephone counsellors are trained to ask each caller as part of their mission to achieve an Australia free of suicide.
“Are you thinking about suicide?” Ask the question, have the conversation. You may just save someone’s life.
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor and Lifeline Telephone Crisis Support
When people feel overwhelmed or anxious about something that is going on in their lives, they can find sharing their concerns with a close friend or family member helpful. And while talking with a friend about a problem is something most of us do, there are many good reasons why talking to a counsellor may be a better option.
Often, the issues and concerns that people share with a counsellor aren’t things they are comfortable to share with a friend. It can be that a traumatic event has triggered anxiety, they feel stuck in a difficult patterns, or they might realise they are just not coping with some aspects of their life.
While a friendship is an important part of a support team, friends have their own opinions, beliefs, prejudices and values, which may colour their advice. Friendships can also have an imbalance in power, status, or reliability, which can make people feel compelled to conform to peer pressure or others’ expectations. The counsellor takes a caring, empathetic approach, making no assumptions and really ‘ hearing’ what the client has to say, while respecting the unique situation and individual values the client holds.
Friends may also find it difficult to maintain confidentiality, or be completely honest for fear of hurting feelings and harming the friendship. A counsellor is bound by a code of professional conduct to ensure confidentiality is maintained. This security, as well as knowing this relationship is separate from most other relationships in the client’s life, allows the client to speak freely and honestly.
A professional counsellor provides a structure and framework to assist the client work through the issues that matter most to them. Professional boundaries are established to ensure the client feels safe, respected and supported throughout their journey. The counsellor is trained to assess important safety aspects such as suicide risk, family violence or risk to children, and provide support or professional referrals to get help where it is needed.
But, importantly, talking with your counsellor is not like a normal two-way conversation where your friend may relate shared experiences or personal stories to make you feel less alone. It is the one-way dialogue you have with your counsellor that keeps the conversation focused on your story, your issues and your goals that ultimately helps you find your solutions.
Because of all these reasons and more, seeing a counsellor should feel very different to talking with a friend. The quality of the therapeutic relationship has been proven to be the most important factor for a positive outcome.
So, faced with the choice of talking to a friend who means well, but may lack the skills to be of much help, or speaking with a skilled listener who is bound by professional ethics of confidentiality and trained to support you to get through them, what would you choose?
If you feel ready to have the conversation that focuses on you, your goals and solutions for difficulties you are facing, please contact us at ThoughtMatters Counselling on 9188 4481.
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor
Vanessa Steele: counsellor, mum, partner, blogger... listening and learning every day.