Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Enforceable Statement

I wanted to get a practical skill in here early on. One of my favorites is the Enforceable Statement. Parents let me know that they often wish they had more credibility with their children so that when they really need their kids to take them seriously, they would. One way to increase credibility right away is to stop talking about what the child needs to do and focus instead on what you will do, provide or allow. A familiar example is if you tell a child, "Don't talk to me in that tone of voice," the statement is completely unenforceable. It will probably make the child want to continue to talk to you in the same exact tone you are trying to address. Now what happens to your credibility when the child does respond in the same tone? Down it ratchets.

Notice what happens when you change that unenforceable command into an enforceable statement. "I'll be happy to listen as soon as your voice is calm like mine". Now if the child continues with the same tone, you can let them know that it looks like you'll need to try again later. With some repetition they get the hang of things pretty quickly and realize that staying tuned in to what you say you're willing to do, provide or allow is a valuable source of information for them.

On days when things aren't going so well we might try to set the exact same limit, by saying with exasperation, "You use a civil tone or don't bother talking to me, because I won't be listening." Even though the limit is the same, because it is framed negatively (and usually has a petulant tone to it as well) it pulls the kid into a power struggle with you, if you weren't already in one to begin with. Love and Logic uses the mnemonic Thinking Words vs Fighting Words, which I think captures pretty nicely what we're shooting for.

On Love and they have a nice Enforceable Statements PDF handout. Be patient with yourself as you try these. Awareness is the first step. If you're trying out enforceable statements and you end up saying something much less helpful, remind yourself that this is the normal process.

Just being aware that there is an alternative, and seeing in retrospect where it might fit is progress that will start you on your way, even if your behavior has not yet changed. Give enforceable statements a try. They can be one important piece of a better relationship with your kids.
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