Let’s face it: As a parent, you’ll eventually experience that painful moment when your child yells at you, speaks to you disrespectfully, or even—dagger through the heart—tells you she hates you. How do you handle such an upsetting situation? And how do you communicate productively with your child, no matter how old he or she is?
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Stefanie Ziev, a New York-based life coach who regularly appears on the Today show, says we must first recognize that there is a difference between “reacting” to the difficult situation and “responding” to it.
“A reaction is quick and based on emotion,” says Ziev. “A response is responsible—you handle the situation productively.”
Ziev recommends that parents bring awareness of their physical responses to challenging parenting situations.
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“Tune in to your body,” Ziev says. “When your chest tightens, your breath gets shallow, and you can feel the fire in your body, it’s really key to find a way to step away from the situation before you react. Take a breath, then contemplate your response.”
Your response could be an “I” statement, in which you explain to your child how his or her behavior made you feel and ask for the behavior you need. Or, says Ziev, you can open up a dialog with older children.
“Ask your teenage daughter how you can help her in a difficult situation or how she would like you to communicate with her,” suggests Ziev. “Brainstorm ways to communicate.”
One possibility, says Ziev, is to come up with a “safe word” that means you’re going to take a break to calm down, then come back together and listen to each other.
With younger children, Ziev suggests asking questions as a way to explore difficult behavior.
“You can be curious about their behavior,” says Ziev. “You can say, ‘Tell me why you did that. What were you trying to do?’”
All of these responses demonstrate to your child that you are partners in problem solving and show your child that you respect him or her, while still setting healthy boundaries. Being willing to listen and model the type of communication you want teaches your child how to communicate with others effectively, which will serve him well from preschool into adulthood.