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Parenting Guide Sheets
17. Communicating

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Page 17A
Introducing this Page
The purpose of this page is to pause up and think about the arts of ‘listening' and ‘talking'. You'll note we've separated them so that we focus on each. In marriages and in families where there is any breakdown in relationships, it almost always means two people have stopped communicating.  Lack of communication is one of the primary causes of relational breakdown.
So, although this may not be the first page you have jumped to in this series on parenting, it is absolutely vital to you as a parent, so please read it carefully and check yourself against what you find here. You may not be who you think you are!
Again the style of this page will be short paragraph or ‘bullet-point' style to separate out individual things for you to think about with plenty of white space around to make it easy to read. Each individual bit needs thinking about.
1. The Art of Bad Communication
a) Bad Family Communication
b) Translating Bad Communication
c) Lessons to be Learned
2. Talkers and Listeners
a) Families Talk
b) Talking without Listening?
1. Art of Bad Communication
a) Bad family Communication
Example 1: Frankie screams, “I hate you!” That's nasty communication. He also doesn't mean it, because in three minutes he'll have thrown his arms round mum and given her a big hug, as soon as his tantrum had died down!
Example 2: Mum calls from the kitchen to the family, “Come and sit up, I'm dishing up.” The kids know this means she's just getting stuff out of the oven and it will be at least five minutes before it's ready to be put on the table, so they carry on what they are doing for another four minutes. Mum is too busy to care.
Example 3: Dad warns little Danny, “If you go near that again, you're in big trouble!” Danny goes near ‘it' and Dad just shouts at him again and he gets away with it. Danny knows that ‘big trouble' is meaningless.
Example 4: Mary badgers her parents to take her to the Fair that is running locally throughout the coming week. Her parents (very busy people) promise to fit in some time somewhere in the week. As the week passes there just doesn't seem time and before they know what has happened, the Fair has gone, and Mary knows that yet again her parents' promise to make time means nothing.
b) Translating Bad Communication
Basic communication theory says, “Good communication takes place when the thoughts in the mind of person A are transmitted in such a way to person B, that person B has exactly the same understanding in their mind as person A.”
In its simplest form, Person A (Mum) says, “I bought a large apple for you this morning.” Person B (child) sees in their mind a juicy apple being got by Mum at the shop and it being handed over.” Simple!
But with social family dynamics (that's just how you and I respond to one another) it's much more complicated than this.
In Example 1 above, when Frankie shouts, “I hate you!” Mum knows that those are just words that Frankie is using to express an angry emotion and they mean little and will be gone in a few minutes. How does she know all this? She has watched Frankie since he was born and she knows what he thinks and feels, and knows that his “I hate you!” really means, “I am seriously upset with you at this moment, but not so upset that it won't be all gone in a few minutes time.” (NB. This isn't to say that she doesn't need to change that behaviour, but this is simply about the meaning of the communication.)
In Example 2, the kids have come to learn that Mum's words really mean, “Can you start thinking about getting ready to come to the table because the food will be ready in five minutes.” They have learned by experience that that is how it works.
In Example 3, Danny has got away with it so many times, he knows that Dad really means, “If you do that again I'll get upset, but I really don't know how to handle you so you'll get away with it.” Again, Danny has learned this by experience. The words did not mean the same to him as they would to an unknowing outsider!
In Example 4, Mary has a vague promise but vague promises in that family really mean, “Well not really darling, we're too busy for you, but we don't want to say that.”
c) The Lessons to be Learned
So often when people are talking about communication, the subject of ‘body language' crops up, but in the case of family dynamics, where situations are repeated again and again, yes, tone of voice and body language may be factors, but the biggest factor for translating the words is what your child has learned about you by past experience!
i.e. your child responds to your words on the basis of what they have so far learned about you.
You do not kid your child!
So many families (and couples) play games with words and therefore the plea here is for honesty and transparency.
Please note that this is not the same as saying be harsh or abrupt. So in our Example 3 above, Danny's Dad doesn't need to say angrily, “I don't know what to do with you, you horrible little boy, and I feel like throttling you!” even if that it what he is feeling. The bad communication there simply indicates it is time for Dad to start learning parenting skills and applying some of the things on these pages.
In Example 4, Mary's parents don't have to snap at her, “Well quite honestly we're far too busy and too tired to go to the fair” even if that is the truth. In her case a more gentle explanation that is really honest about their situation would do more for their relationships, with an acknowledgement that they are looking to see how they can bring changes to their circumstances so this doesn't have to continue, but in the meantime how would she feel if they asked Aunty Jane to take her. Not a good situation but a more honest one that helps them face their situation.
Bad communication, therefore, so often tries to cover up other inadequacies. So, therefore, the request is not merely for honesty and transparency but  the plea is for love and care that can own up to a less than perfect situation with a willingness to think about how to change it .
That is often at the heart of much faulty family communication.

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