Is it important to you that your kids have a voice?
You know – that they question things, not just take things at face value, and feel like they can stand up for things they believe in?
Yea? Me too. It’s actually really important to me.
Sometimes that means that they disagree with me. They might say no. The might even dislike something I say so much that they speak to me in a tone or with words one might call “disrespectful.”
It’s tricky territory. We want them to have a voice. We want them to question things.
But not us, dammit. Ha, only half kidding here, right?
When we look at the long haul, we both can agree we want them to have a voice.
But we also want them to be able to be in relationships with people, expect that they will have bosses and other people of authority who they need to listen to even when they don’t want to, and we want them to be respectful of other people even when they don’t agree.
When your kids use tone, roll their eyes, or give you attitude, I’ll bet that your knee jerk reaction is to “feel disrespected” and talk back (likely in a disrespectful tone), withdraw, tell them to stop, or do something else that is likely to shut down the conversation. It’s a natural tendency that I think we all have.
What if, instead, you were able to take a few breaths and try something like this:
“I notice you have a different opinion than me, and I get the feeling you are afraid I won’t listen to you or that I’m not listening to you. Your tone and words give me the impression you’re angry and frustrated. I’d love to do this over in a way where I give you my full attention and an open mind and YOU say what you were saying — disagreeing, arguing, or whatever — with respect and kindness. I promise you I am going to try to listen and not interrupt you if you promise you will believe that and not get defensive.”
That’s just one example, there are many ways to do this. I know it’s not easy, but kids don’t come into the world knowing this stuff, we need to teach them how to communicate.
The best ways to teach them are:
- Modeling—This is the BEST way. Treat your kids as you would like them to treat you and others. Pay attention next time you and your spouse disagree. Are you speaking and listening respectfully or are your kids learning to respond with anger, a tone, or tuning out?
- Do-overs—When you don’t like the way you’ve handled something with your child (or how your child has handled something), ask if you can do a do-over where both of you can try again with more awareness and empathy.
- Actual language—You actually give them some new language: “When you say x, I think most people might take that as a defensive comment. Would you be willing to say something like y instead?” Sometimes to lighten it up a bit, I’ll even just say “What I think I heard you say was _____” and they will laugh and say, “yeah, what you said.” (an example, if they say “no, I’m not doing that”, I might say “what I think I heard you say is that you’d like a chance to discuss some alternatives.”) And sometimes I will suggest how they could handle it in the future – “When you don’t want to do something, let’s assume I’m open to discussing it. Perhaps you could say to me ‘Mom, I’d rather not, can we talk about other options?'”
- No judging—They’re learning. They aren’t perfect and neither are we. Every time they screw up is a great time to meet them with empathy as they learn to navigate this scary and confusing world.
Your kids can be free thinkers. They can have a strong voice—and they can share that voice respectfully with others and with you. But it takes practice for them (and sometimes for us parents, too).
This week, let go of the idea that your kids are being purposely disrespectful and help them find the line between free thinking and respectful.
NOTE: Only you can know if their disrespect has crossed the line to being abusive. This blog post refers to run-of-the-mill kid stuff but if you believe you are being abused by your child, please get support.
Share in the comments how you balance giving your kids a voice and teaching them how to be kind and respectful.