Thursday, April 22, 2010

Say what you mean

Another installment in my parenting philosophy series...

I sincerely believe in just saying what I mean, rather than dropping hints or expecting people to pick up subtext or (gasp!) guess what I'm thinking. I wrote some time ago about how we have applied that policy to our marriage, but I also apply it to my parenting.
So when my son hops out of the shower, grabs his towel, and bolts up the hall (with the towel swinging in the air, and droplets of water flying every-which-way) I say "please get dry in the bathroom before you run up the hall" rather than "hey, you're getting everything wet." After all, he's 9, I'm pretty sure he knows he's getting everything wet, (he does it almost every day). What he doesn't know--or doesn't remember--is what would be a better alternative.
When the boys are going to bed, I rarely tell them "just go to sleep now." After all, the average 3 year old isn't really sure how to "go to sleep." But if I tell him to lay still, close his eyes, and breathe softly, he can probably do those things. We may end up going through his body parts one by one "make your head be still, make your eyes be closed, make your arms be still, make your bottom stay down on the bed..." and so on, but he can do those things, and they feel much more doable than "go to sleep." Sometimes my sons tell me that they can't fall asleep, or that they won't. I smile and tell them that I don't care if they go to sleep, they are welcome to stay awake all night long if they long as they stay in their beds and lay still and keep quiet. To date none of them has ever managed to pull an all-nighter.☺

That is one side of saying what I mean, and it is a great help in getting kids to know what you want and to do what you ask. The other side of 'saying what you mean' is a little more serious.

If my son is acting up at the store and I tell him that "one more time" will result in marching out the door and going straight home, well, if he does it one more time we'd better start marching immediately. We have left playdates and other fun things because of situations like that. If I'm not willing to leave (if I have to finish my shopping, or I want to keep chatting with my friends) then I had better not deliver that kind of ultimatum. If I threaten to ground him for a month, or throw away all his legos, well, I'd better be willing to follow through. And not just follow through partway, but really follow through. Kids know if you are bluffing, and although they will call your bluff, they would rather be able to just trust you.
On the up side, if I promise that this weekend we can make popcorn and watch a movie, I'd better have a movie and make popcorn. There is no excuse for lying to your kids. Ever. On the rare occasion that something is beyond my control (someone gets sick and we're unable to go to ____) then explain it all truthfully as soon as you know that you won't be able to do what you promised. If you're not sure whether you'll be able to follow through, then don't make the promise. (Sometimes I say "I'm trying to work it out so that we can ___" but I don't promise unless I know I can follow through.) Kids need to be able to trust their parents. Always.


Brandi (Maxfield) Morstad said...

I agree completely. Sticking to your word is important with not only kids, but also adults. It's nice to know that when someone says something, they mean it. That's also how I parent.

While I may not be as direct as I should be at all times, I have improved tremendously in this area. Which is hard to break out of when you grew up in an environment where everything was guessing what the implied message was. I'd much rather get a direct response.

Andrea said...

Re: Saying what you mean.

This is one of the most profound and refreshing parenting articles I've read in a long time. As a new first time Mom to a 6 month old I thank you! That's advice that makes a lot of sense to me.

Jena Vincent said...

This reminds me of something the man who's now my Bishop confessed to the Ward years ago. When his children first posed the question to him about whether Santa was real, he told them no. And he admitted that to a lot of people that would seem harsh to dash a little kid's dreams like that, but he said he wanted his children to know that he would never lie to them. That has stuck with me. I don't know if I could do it, but I like that rock solid honesty.

Mommy Bee said...

Thank you Andrea. I'm flattered. :)
I try to take a very common-sense no-nonsense approach to parenting. Honesty just seems logical.

Jena, my mom never taught us about Santa in the first place. I never felt that I was missing any 'magic' and Christmastime was a fun season. We just knew that it was about Jesus, and that presents were to show love, not because some fat guy with reindeer was breaking and entering ;) My husband likes to do letters to santa and so on, so what I do when my kids ask is that I tell them about St Nicholas (who was real) who loved Jesus and so gave gifts because Jesus taught to take care of people (I have a great storybook about him called "SAnta are you for real"). I also read them the newspaper column "Yes Virginia there is a santa claus" from years ago where the girl wrote to the editor and asked if santa was real. The editor essentially said that Santa is a feeling in our hearts and a way of treating each other, and that so long as that spirit lives then santa is real. :)

Kate said...

What a great reminder that clear and direct communication works best for all parties involved. I realized very early in my marriage that my husband is not a mind reader and I cannot in all fairness expect him to be. I can easily see how I should carry this through to my children (first due in July) as well.

On a side note, I sometimes find myself getting very wordy or repetitive when trying to communicate something to my husband. I've found I do this when I feel like I'm not getting through to him. We had a break through moment one evening when he got annoyed at me for going on and on about something. I just want some acknowledgment I answered. He looked straight at me and in all seriousness said, "Please tell me that more often. I can do that. I just need help remembering." (He's from the silent head shake while behind the computer screen school.)

We've had the I'm not looking for a solution to my problem I just need you to listen to me vent for a minute conversation before too.

Aprillium said...

I so agree with this!!! Not only in parenting and marriage but in any communication! I hate it when people are passive aggressive or wishy-washy. It's a huge pet peeve of mine.

This isn't to say that I advocate people being rude. Just that being straight forward is always easier... and tact can be included in that :)

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