Monday, October 1, 2007

Beyond Lectures, Part 2

We looked last time at how lecturing, though it comes to us easily, isn't all that helpful to helping kids along the path to responsibility. In fact, I would agree with several folks in the business of working with families that kids who receive a lot of lectures actually tend to be less responsible. We also looked one of the best ways to avoid lecturing when we're frustrated with our kids' behavior, which is to wait until a time when we're both feeling calmer. Jim Fay's mnemonic suggestion for this is "Save the words for the happy times." I would add that just going for a more neutral time is often enough. Once you've used a little shared control to set up a time to talk, there are lots of alternatives on how to have a helpful conversation.

We know that it usually helps and almost never hurts to use some empathy. When someone has demonstrated that he can see our situation the way that we experience it, it is a human tendency to be more open to accepting influence from that person. This makes a good deal of sense. When we're pretty sure that someone has next to no idea what an experience is like for us, it simply wouldn't make a lot of sense to take advice from that person. Some empathy might sound something like this:

I'm guessing that getting chores done isn't one of the things that you look forward to when you get up...not one of the highlights of your day.

It probably isn't much fun having me getting cranky with you about your not getting them done.

Initially when we think about using empathy as a parent, it can arouse some resistance on our part. "Why should I be empathetic? He's being whiny and irresponsible. I work all day, and I get my share of the housework done. Why should I be having to come up with empathy?" My main response is that it is important to keep your goal in sight. If the goal is to get the chores done, equip your child with the skills to be responsible, and to maintain a sense of connection with your child, it is useful to begin with empathy. If Dr. Phil agreed with my suggestion on empathy and he were to respond to our natural resistance to this idea, I could just hear him say in his drawl, "Look someone's got to be the adult around here. Looks like you're the only likely candidate"

In addition to empathy, something else that can be helpful is to use questions that elicit how our kid sees the situation. "So what are some of the challenges in getting your chores done?" This can help kids to become involved in the conversation. Instead of feeling criticized for their lack of responsibility they might be more likely to help identify what they problem is, which by itself will make it more likely that you'll be able to come up with some sort of workable solution.

Now that you've got your kid closer to being on the same wavelength, one way to proceed is to use collaborative problem solving. This sort of approach to finding solutions actually works much better if it is done visually on paper, or ideally on a big white board or butcher paper up on the wall. Step 1) Define the problem. Step 2) Brainstorm a lot of possible solutions to the problem, with everyone involved contributing ideas. It important at this stage not to edit ideas. We come up with much more creative ideas when we aren't simultaneously editing or critiquing thoughts as we're coming up with them. Step 3) Circle the solutions that seem most helpful. Step 4) Identify one or more possible solutions and give them a road test. Finally, Step 5) evaluate how it went and revisit the process as necessary.

So when you're tempted to lecture, wait to have the conversation until you're calmer, use some empathy and give collaborative problem solving a try. This is certainly not the only way to avoid the erosion that lectures can have on responsible behavior and on your relationship with your child, but it can be one effective route.
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