I had been running errands most of the afternoon, leaving my children at home with my 16-year-old son who was supposedly “babysitting.” As I came home, just as I opened the door, I heard my 13-year-old son say, “Hide the evidence.”
……………...Not a very relaxing thought, right?
I walked in, and immediately saw that evidence. The children had been watching a movie (which I had asked them not to do), and they had been eating ice cream. Eating in that room was definitely against the rule. In addition, ice cream was not on the approved list of snacks, and everyone knew it. The dog was on the couch (not allowed), and toys with multiple pieces were scattered all over the floor.
The “natural mom” part of me would respond this way:
“You are all grounded for one week. I am going to go out of the room for 3 minutes and come back in, and I better see everything cleaned up. You know better than this! If you don’t get it cleaned up by then, you’re grounded for TWO weeks!”
What I would achieve with this: Compliance. If the punishment is severe enough, they will learn not to do that again.
What I would NOT achieve with this: Obedience would come because I took control. It would not build their desire to contribute to the wellbeing of the household, nor would it show them why they should care.
There’s a better way.
I could choose to respond this way:
“When I see the dog on the couch, and toys scattered all over the floor, and can tell that you have been eating in this room because I can see the dishes, I feel very disappointed. I really want to be able to know that when I leave, you will still honor the rules of our home and govern yourselves. Would you be willing to immediately put all these things away, and then come back to talk? Hopefully we can work together to make a plan so that you can remember to obey the rules and be self-governing while I am away. That will help us all to be happier.”
Everyone always says: Well, what if they are NOT willing to do that, and what if they just get mad at being caught?
The answer to this lies in the “connection” and “pre-teach”” aspect of communication skills. Our main goal with any communication hopefully is to connect with the heart. So, if the person we are communicating does not want to connect with the heart, we don’t have a communication problem, we have a relationship problem. That is very important to understand. We communicate better with people who trust us, and who see value in our connection and communication. Connection is very important to communication, and quite frankly, connection is not something that we develop on the spur of the moment.
That’s where “pre-teach” comes in. We “pre-teach” by our example, honestly. A child who does not know for sure that we have a deep love and interest in them, is not going to believe that our intent is really to help them govern themselves.
In addition, the way we use words actually teaches many people things about our heart. They know that if we use demeaning words, or demand-oriented language, that our interest is not in them, but in forcing a solution to the problem. That’s why it is so important to learn how to use words in a way that invite connection and invite people to consider things from the heart.