How do you talk to your kids about their "bad" day in a respectful manner?  I have had several parents ask me, what they can say to their kids when they find out that their kid got in trouble at school or that they are not doing well academically, or when they share that they had a conflict with either another student or a teacher.  

To any of these questions one thing to keep in mind is that the relationship always comes first.  If you don’t have the relationship you are not in a position to help your child.  He/she will not hear you.  Furthermore if you are in a fight (open or hidden) you will have very little success in getting their cooperation.  Finding yourself standing in the ring with your boxing gloves on, scowling at each other, ready to draw blood, start taking a step back, breathe and retreat.  If you do not do this, you will lose on all counts.  Believe it or not, you know it’s true.  We’ve all been there and done that.  Even if you ground them, take all their privileges away, whatever your go to “consequence” , they will defeat you.  Just as you are convincing yourself that you have taught them, yet again, their biggest lesson,  you will find you do not have a cooperating child.  What you will have is a child who knows how to fight, carefully planning your next defeat or their own revenge.  You will eventually find yourself like Napoleon at Waterloo, with  your spouse humming that old ABBA song.

Fighting does not improve the situation, it is another form of discouragement.  You feel disregarded, disrespected, disappointed.  How you feel dis-ed probably has nothing to do with your child, but is something you carried with you, before you even decided to have kids.  Whatever kind of dis-  you're carrying, take a good look at it and then let it go.  Focus on the courage part and when you are in that good place, where you feel calm, cool and collected, start the conversation with your kid.  

First you want to listen to their version of what happened.  Try to identify where their discouragement is coming from.  What are they saying that they believe about themselves.  Check for possible mistaken conclusions they've come to believe.  You’re a first class detective, trying to find and put together all the pieces of the puzzle.  Formulate a clearer picture.  Listen for things such as I’m not capable, I’m not good enough, I don’t belong, I’m not being noticed.  Ask questions only for clarification at this point.  Such as “let me understand what you are saying, is it that…?”  “ What happened before?" " What happened after?”.  Listen for their unique interpretations that may not be aligned with common sense.  What are the clues for how they are finding their love and belonging?  Is it socially interested or not?  

Once you understand their discouragement you need to help them build up their courage to solve the problem (not doing well in a certain academic subject, having a conflict at school, having had a situation where they got in trouble) whatever the issue is that needs resolving.  The important thing is to focus on the problem not the "problem child".   What are the possible solutions (which have to be reasonably doable by the child with only the necessary help from you).  Identifying the problem is important because it puts everyone on the same page: Yes, we all agree this is a problem.  It builds a community feeling, because: Yes, we are all connected and need each other's help.  Also the problem is just what it is, something to be solved, not a way to shame, ridicule, blame etc.  The child’s worth, and their belonging in the family unit is not being questioned.  They are not on trial.  When it comes to solutions, resist jumping in and fixing it for them.  It may feel good to have all the answers, to know how certain things will not work, because you’ve had the experience.  You might want to save them time and heartache, but this is not about you.  It will feel really good when you know that you’ve helped them, to someday get to where you are now, so resist being a fixer.   All ideas are heard, mostly the child is encouraged to come up with them, but if they are stuck you can jump start it and guide them, by asking:  What would you think of the following?…. Can I make a suggestion?….. What if you tried doing?…… You get the idea; suggestions, not demands, no power moves!  Keep it friendly, take breaks if needed, put it aside if it’s not going well and try again later.  Now you are switching from detective to high stakes diplomat.  

Once you’ve decided on a course of action, let them do it.  Next check in: How did it go?  Point out the positive, anything that went poorly goes back to the drawing table.  Mistakes, failures and messes are all part of the learning process.  Share times you’ve failed or messed up.  Let them see that their mom and dad are not aliens from another planet.  Now try again.  Remember, solutions which build community need to have an interest in all who are involved.  

The process of learning is the most important in building courage, worth and connection.  It’s like putting money in the bank.   These experiences will be there for them to draw on when they face new challenges.  Celebrate your family’s successes and continue to build on what is working.  Remember, we are all in the same boat, there are no perfect parents and there are no perfect children.


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