Silence should never be used to punish someone. Using silence to punish someone is when you don’t even acknowledge that the person has walked into the room because you are mad, trying to prove a point, or want to hurt them. We also use silence negatively by purposely not texting or calling someone back. This is damaging to the relationship. More importantly, it’s very damaging to children who don’t understand why you won’t talk to them. Using silence to punish kids is destructive and can negatively affect the child’s self esteem. If you’re upset, it’s perfectly fine to tell someone that you want to discuss the topic later. Or maybe that you need time to think or regroup.
Using silence productively is when you withhold your opinion in order for someone else to continue talking. This allows their thoughts continue uninterrupted and you can better absorb the information as well. When you are silent during a conversation with someone, it does not mean the same thing as agreeing the person. Just because you didn’t offer your opinion immediately, does not mean you approve of what the person is saying. Silence can show respect as you remain quiet, let the other person talk, and not interrupt constantly.
Silence can increase dialogue in a family meeting because if someone is talking it’s respectful to actually let them talk. Some Native Americans use a feather when they have a family gathering and the person who is holding the feather is the only one allowed to talk. This is brilliant because people are more likely to talk if they know they won’t be interrupted. It shows a great deal of respect to let someone talk. It shows that you respect them and that the relationship is important to you. On the other hand, if you use silence to punish, you are sending the message that the person and the relationship aren’t that important.
When we have family meetings, we want to increase dialogue. Some people are naturally more quiet in group settings which is fine. But it’s also good for others (the talkers) to learn to be quiet when they should be. If we let people talk without interruptions, we are more likely to learn something about them which results in a better understanding of each other and our needs.
It’s a great idea to use a feather for the person who has the floor and is talking in your family meeting. You could use any object, just make sure you don’t use several different items in one meeting. You can alternate the objects if kids want to use different ones, but if you have too many at one time, then kids can be antsy to talk to show their item. So, limit it to one “talking stick” per meeting. Have fun with it – maybe use a squishy ball, a stuffed animal, or a pet rock. :)
Do you have a family meeting if you have house guests? Well, that depends.
If you’ve been having family meetings for a while and want to show the guests how they work, then by all means. If it’s someone who just won’t understand (and there are those people), then reschedule the meeting or pick back up with your schedule after they’re gone.
If you do have a meeting while the house guests are visiting, then make sure to include them if they decide to join your meeting. Give them a role. Ask them to speak up when discussing something. Have them call the meeting to order. There are many options on including guests. Just do what’s comfortable for them, and your family.
If your child asks a question about a topic that is sensitive – such as sex or drugs – don’t panic! If it’s a younger child, they may have heard something on TV or at school and they might be asking out of curiosity. Us adults tend to panic and deluge the child with information they didn’t want or we completely avoid answering.
We need to be careful that we don’t overwhelm them with too much information. For example, if a 5 year old asks what an STD is, this doesn’t mean they are ready for a 30 minute “sex talk”. They probably heard it somewhere and are just wondering what it means. When responding to your child, first of all take a breath! You will get through this! You could initially respond by asking a question in order to find out where they heard it and what it is that they want to know. For example, you could ask your 5 year old….”where did you hear that?” Or “what are you curious about?” You may realize that they simply wanted to know who gets it, what it is, or even how to spell it (especially if they have heard STD, but might think it is ESTEEDEE).
When you get more information from the child about what they specifically want to know, you can then give them an age appropriate response. For example……. maybe a young child wants to know who gets STD’s – adults or kids. Your answer would be “adults.” And if you have any luck that day the kid will happily skip out of the house to play out back because they simply wanted to know if kids get it.
Don’t avoid discussions with younger kids. Keep that dialogue door open as this will help when they are older and you REALLY need to talk about things. Plus if they know they can count on you now, they are more likely to count on you in the future when they truly want (and need) honest information. There is plenty of research which supports that if children can have honest conversations with their parents about sex and drugs they are more likely to not participate in such activities as they understand their parent’s expectations of them. If you are caught off guard by a question, it’s perfectly okay to tell your child that you’d like to talk about this later tonight. This gives you some time to calm down and formulate your plan of attack on the subject.
Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Show your child that you can handle it. After all, you are the grown up. :) By answering your child, he/she will feel respected and feel important. Which will more than pay off in the future.
As adults, we often “adultize” everything. What I mean is that as adults we understand things from our 45 year old perspective. We must recognize that children and teenagers often have a completely different viewpoint than us. And, we must respect this. But when a child is upset we tend to think things are not that big of a deal, or the child is “over reacting.” If an adult calls a child “goofy” we may not realize that this is a particular hot button for the kid (for whatever reason), and as a result he or she gets upset. To the adult, we think it’s no big deal. It’s just a word. The kid is overreacting.
When having a family meeting with children, ask them what words they think are hurtful. Be patient and let them talk. If they are having a hard time coming up with some you can prompt them to think of words by giving an example of a word that is hurtful to you. For example, you might say to your children, “when someone calls me names like ‘lazy’, it hurts me.” The idea is to let the kids talk and explain themselves without rushing them or putting your words into their mouths. If they are allowed to speak openly in a family meeting now, the chances of them speaking up in the future is increased. Keep in mind that when a child is talking about what words hurt them, they are probably feeling very vulnerable.
You could assign “homework” by asking children or teenagers to create a list of hurtful words over the next week and bring the list to the next family meeting. This way they can incorporate what they hear and experience throughout their week. (Of course, the word “homework” might actually be a negative word to kids. Maybe you could call it a “project” or “secret assignment” or “top secret mission”).
You are looking for an increase in understanding by all of the members of the family to help create a sense of connection and support. We need to understand that we all have different opinions of which words are hurtful and which ones don’t affect us. If we understand what’s hurtful to each other then we can avoid using such words.
It’s a good idea to balance out the hurtful words with healing words. You could do this in the same meeting, or talk about it at a later date.
Some of us think that what others say to us doesn’t matter. You know…the ole “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” thing.
Although this may be somewhat true for some, in reality words do have significant impact. Try this exercise. Make two columns on a piece a paper. At the top of the left column write “hurtful” and on the top of the right column write “healing”. Now list words or phrases under each that has an impact on you. For example, under hurtful words you might list words such as – lazy, slob, dumb, fat, etc. Do the same for the healing column which may include words such as – sorry, I’m here for you, responsible. These don’t have to be words that have been said to you directly, but words that you hear or think about.
Add to your list throughout the day. At the end of the day, review the list and give some thought to which words impact you the most and why. Does it matter which person in your life said those to you? Does it matter if you said them to someone else?
Words have the power to make us feel emotion, change our self concept or self esteem, and move us to action.
No one is going to save you and fix your communication issues. I know that sounds harsh. But it’s reality. We can’t change other people. We can only change ourselves. We often blame others for our communication issues. We say things like, “If he would just…..” Or “If only she…” It’s time to take responsibility for the interactions and outcomes of our relationships. Keep in mind that I am only talking about healthy relationships here – this does not apply to abusive relationships. If you are in an abusive relationship, this requires professional help and I urge to get some.
When we aren’t happy with our communication in a relationship, we have to change how WE are interacting, what WE are saying, and how WE are listening. Keep in mind that we have a long history of patterned interactions with the people in our lives. When we change anything about our communication, it has the potential to make the other person wonder what’s up. Let me give you an example……
Let’s say you yell at me to get your point across or when you’re trying to get me to do something. When you yelled at me, I knew what to do with that. When you yelled, I yelled back. When you yelled, I shut down and didn’t engage. When you yelled, I walked away. This is our pattern of interaction. Then one day you decide to stop yelling. This throws me off and I wonder why you aren’t yelling. Then one day you want to yell, but you don’t. Instead, you calmly talk to me. Now I’m left with not knowing what to do, so I will try my old pattern to push your buttons to get you to yell. Again, you don’t yell. Now I am frustrated and might yell at you. Again, you do not engage in that old pattern of yelling. You then explain to me that you are no longer going to yell at me nor will you tolerate me yelling at you. It has now become my issue where I have to choose how I interact with you. Although I don’t like the whole yelling cycle, it is familiar and comfortable and I know what to do. Because you are no longer yelling, I have to change my communication habits and adapt to a healthier way of interacting.
We often continue patterns because they are familiar and easy even though we may not like them. Change requires a lot of time and effort.
So….let’s recap…..our communication is a choice. Yes….. I said A CHOICE. Make the choices that create a healthy level of communication which generates respect. Keep dialogue open and stay firm in your changes. You can do this!
We spend time doing what we love or on things that are important to us. If you’re out to lunch with a friend and you are on your phone the whole time, you are communicating that your phone, Facebook, or whatever is more important than the friend across from you. If your child comes home from school to tell you something exciting and you’re on your phone only half paying attention to her, she gets the message that she’s not important to you – your phone is more important. Unfortunately, when she’s a teenager and really needs to talk with you, she will have gotten the message for years that other things are more important.
When you are spending time with someone important to you, make sure they know it – turn off your phone and give them the eye contact and attention they deserve. Be alert to what you spend your time doing. At the end of the day, are you happy with how you spent the minutes and hours? Are you happy with the “messages” that you have sent to others?