By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Two of the most important parenting techniques are Reflecting and Describing. Famed psychologist Haim Ginott described them back in the 1970's
Parenting Technique Number 1: Reflecting
When a child is upset, when a child has a problem, when a child has conflict, try to reflect his feelings back to him. Always deal with the feelings first before you do anything else. Reflecting means verbalizing and labelling the feelings he is experiencing and showing the child that you are aware that he has those feelings. Let's say a child comes home and reports a conflict with someone else. Before you give advice, criticize, or blame, say, “What he said must've really hurt your feelings,” or, “That must've been very frustrating,” or “That must have made you angry.” This validates his experience and brings significant relief. In addition you should always take your child’s side in a conflict. This makes him feel secure enough to admit his mistakes.
When a child gets hurt, reflect, “Oh you banged your knee, that's painful. You were having such a good time and then right in the middle you got hurt.” If he’s upset or disappointed, reflect, “Oh, how disappointing that your friend can’t come over, that makes you feel really sad.” These types of responses soothe his feelings and allow him to process and resolve them.
When a child has a problem or can't make a decision reflect back both sides of the issue, “Oh, on the one hand you really want to go to the party, but on the other hand you really want to go to the game with your dad. This is a tough decision. I have confidence you can come up with a solution.” When a child has sibling conflict reflect, “Don't you just wish that he would let you play with his toys. It's frustrating when he won’t let you play. It makes you angry. We express our feelings with words not fists.”
Reflecting is emotional first aid to your child. It shows him that you support him, you are there for him and understand him. Having his feelings reflected gives him pleasure and satisfaction and this good feeling gives him the strength to persevere through the challenge and come out on top. Reflecting shows the child that we are passionately listening to him. Check out my post: Teaching emotions to children.
In addition you may like: How to validate your child's feelings.
Parenting Technique Number 2: Describing
When a child does something wrong or when there's a problem, don't criticize, lecture, blame or insult. Instead, describe the situation, describe how you feel, describe what needs to be done and describe your values. “I see Cheerios all over the kitchen floor” (the situation). “It upsets me and makes me angry to see such a mess” (how you feel). “The broom and the dustpan are over there” (what needs to be done). “We keep our house clean” (our values). In this way we do not criticize or give orders, we just give information and expectations and show the child that we have confidence in him to behave appropriately. This vote of confidence can inspire children to do the right thing. Instead of saying, “How many times do I have to tell you to walk the dog,” describe, “I see a dog waiting to go out,” and the child can conclude for himself what needs to be done. Instead of criticizing, “Why can’t you remember to shut off the light in the bathroom,” describe, “I see the light in the bathroom on,” and he can conclude by himself what to do. Instead of shouting, “Turn off that loud music, now!” describe, “I hear very loud music coming out of your room.” This allows the child to save face and to not feel bossed, to step up to the plate and do the right thing of his own volition.
When a child does something wrong and you are afraid you will be overwhelmed with anger, you may express your feelings but make sure it's “Anger without insult.” Don't attack the personality of the child or criticize by saying, “How many times do I have to tell you… what's wrong with you.” Instead, describe your feelings by saying, “I am livid! I'm boiling! My tools were left out in the rain and now they're all rusty.” Describe your values and expectations, “In our house tools are only loaned to those who can be responsible and put them back.” See my blog post: Anger management for parents.
If there is sibling conflict, describe and reflect. “I see one boy angry that his toy was taken away… I see another boy angry that his brother won't let him play… I see two boys that want to play with the same toy… hmm… this is a tough one. I have confidence that if both of you think hard you can come up with a solution.” Then walk away. (Description).
When a child speaks to you in a disrespectful way reflect the emotional state of the child: “It sounds like you're angry, and that's why you are speaking to me that way,” and describe your feelings, “But that kind of talk makes me very upset and uncomfortable. It makes me angry.” Describe your values, “In our house we speak to each other with respect.” Describe your expectations, “If you have a problem I expect you to express it to me in a respectful way.”
Reflecting and describing are golden Parenting techniques and can resolve very many challenges!
Please bear in mind that the above principles represent a parenting ideal. One should not expect to fulfill them perfectly, so have patience and adopt these ideas gradually.
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