Q: How can I encourage my son to be open with me and know that I’ll love him unconditionally no matter what?
A: Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg and numerous others have devoted their lives to studying and responding to this kind of question. That said, my study and daily practice of the skills from Rosenberg’s communication strategies leads me to want to share here some bits as I understand and find the strategies effective and helpful in daily living.
Whether a child is 21 or any age, I’ve learned that it’s difficult as a parent to hear that my child is feeling anything other than happiness. When I hear otherwise, It’s easy to call up old behaviors, ones that judge or try to fix the situation. I’ve learned that using empathic words is far more effective in building strong connecting bonds.
Our children expect unconditional love from parents. It’s a bond that’s viewed by as being at risk when they hear words or sense (voice tone, body language, facial expressions) that suggest to them––for even a second––that this unconditional parental love is at risk. From a place of fear and self-protection, they may shut down to sharing with us. They feel a need to protect their parent-child bond. That need is so great that silence may feel safer.
What words or actions from us could possibly suggest to our child that it’s safer to be silent? I’m thinking here of times when my parental “go to” has been from my “fixing mode,” times when I’ve said words of evaluation/judgment. Times when I’ve forgotten to put on my active listening ears and respond with empathic words. With a few such “risky” experiences under their belts, my kids may choose that silence.
So how might fixing words sound? Suppose my child says sadly that a friend didn’t play nice/share. And suppose I used some fixing words, such as “Did you tell him/her to stop it?” or “Did you find someone else to play?” or even “I’m sorry your friend didn’t play nice. I love you, though.”
Or my evaluative/judgmental words may have sounded something like: “That was really mean,” “That was not kind,” “I know you played nice, though,” or “I wouldn’t like someone who acted like that.”
Oops! My “Parent Bear” forgot to listen and reply empathically with words, such as: “I’m guessing you felt disappointed (sad, upset, hurt) in your friend’s choice,” or “I’m wondering if you felt surprised and sad when your friend didn’t’ play nice.”
At www.nvc.org, you can learn more about Rosenberg’s communication strategies and why and how they work to build connections with family and friends.
Copyright © 2015 Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz