Positive Communication When Negative Behavior Strikes

Written by Todd Cartmell, Psy. D

It hits us all.  Anyone who has been a parent for more than say, five minutes, knows the feeling.  Parent frustration can strike at the most unexpected and inconvenient times.

  • Johnny won’t stop kicking the back of the driver’s seat.
  • Charlotte refuses to eat her meal at the restaurant.
  • Andrew appears ungrateful after you just bought him some expensive sports equipment.

Each of these frustrating moments has one thing in common: Communication.  You are going to communicate with your kids about their behavior in each of these situations.  The question is whether your communication is going to help the situation or make it worse. 

Imagine the kind of communication “bridge” you want between you and your kids.  Picture an old, run down, wood-decayed bridge that even Indiana Jones would be nervous to step on.  Then picture a strong, amazing bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. 

That’s the bridge you want. 

Keep that picture in mind as you address the problem, because your communication bridge is more important than the problem itself.  You may have a valuable piece of wisdom that your kids really need to hear or a wonderful lesson to teach, but those things will do you no good if you throw a hand grenade on your communication bridge while you are trying to send valuable cargo across.   

How to Build Your Communication Bridge

Here are a few ideas for building a strong communication bridge, even in difficult moments:

1) Don’t damage it.  Yelling, exaggerated statements (e.g., “Your room is always a mess”), and putdowns will only turn your bridge into a war zone and guarantee that no valuable information gets across.  Instead, focus your comments on the situation at hand and make it your goal to set an example of respectfulness in what you say and how you say it. 

2) Listen first, talk second.  This is a sure-fire bridge builder.  After you bring up the subject, let your kids talk first while you listen intently to their point of view.  This shows them that you care about their perspective, will give you insight into their thinking, and will help you respond more effectively when it is your turn.

3) Solve the problem together.  Once everyone has shared their point of view, focus your discussion on finding a positive solution.  Listen to everyone’s ideas and evaluate them together.  As the parents, you have the final say, but it really helps when your kids have been an active part of the problem-solving process.