School's Out! How to Keep your Cool during the Hot Summer
The Family Therapist is In
August, 2007 - Issue #34
Following are some exercises and tips to help parents stay cool, especially during the often-stressful summer months!

A good place to start is with our tone. Are we keeping our cool and speaking respectfully? Try using an "I" statement. They sound a little funny at first (Okay, they sound really funny at first.) but they help with the goal of not losing it!

"I" messages tell what is happening, tell what you feel and explain why you feel that way. They use the pattern of "When blank happens, I feel blank, because blank." These messages focus on you, not on your child, and don't blame anyone. For example, you may need to use this one over the summer: "When you don't call, I feel worried because I don't know where you are."

While these may seem silly, there is a real purpose to these messages. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want to be right or help my child be self-reliant?

Do I want to show who the boss is or help them be responsible?

Do I want to get even or show I understand?

After you begin to model how to speak respectfully, the next goal is to listen respectfully. Sometimes listening at all is hard because we want to jump right in and start that teachable moment! Parents should try reflective listening. The three aspects of this active listening skill are: listen, hear and use. Let your body show you're listening; listen to your child's words to hear what you think they're feeling; and use your own words to mirror their feelings. Here's how it might sound in practice. "It sounds like you feel angry because you didn't get picked for the team?" or "It looks like your impatient with me because I came to pick you up late?"

Sometimes being specific about our feelings helps our children better interpret the situation. Here are some words you can use for happy feelings: appreciated, better, comfortable, excited, grateful, great, happy, pleased, proud, relieved, satisfied. On the contrary, here are several to use when you feel upset: angry, bored, confused, disappointed, frustrated, guilty, hurt, left out, put down, miserable, worthless.

Here are some other summer must-use skills:

How to Say "No" without Losing your Cool

"I can see that you're angry, but I won't listen to shouting. I'll be in the kitchen if you'd like to talk."

"You're disappointed. You don't think I'm being fair. But I can't send you on an overnight trip without an adult."

Notice when they Do Something Right

Notice when your child helps, cooperates or takes any form of responsibility. And I mean "any!" Find something so you can use the word "appreciate." Try this: "I appreciate when you ask before you borrow my clothes. Thank you." Or maybe, "I appreciate that you returned my clothes after you borrowed them." And yes, in this case, you should hold back the desire to finish the sentence with, "Even though you didn't ask first!"

Expect Reactions

Your communication may prompt surprise, irritation or being ignored. Still, your reactions should be of respect, resolve and relaxation.

When in Doubt, Ask

Sometimes, you just have to ask. You can't use "I" messages all of the time; it's okay to make a simple request. Make sure to think about the real problem; be careful when you feel angry; and be ready to listen. Encouragement, not expectation, is the key to listening and being heard. It shows that we accept and love our kids and think they are capable of making decisions and communicating with us.

Tips for Talking to your Child

Describe what happened instead of blame.

Be specific about behaviors that bother you instead of putting labels on their character or personality.

Own your own feelings rather than make your teen responsible for them.

Invite them to help solve problems.

Love and accept your child.

Notice their efforts, appreciate them, have faith and display trust.

I know that the above is difficult to put into practice, especially in the heat of the moment. Communication between kids and parent shouldn't be a power struggle. You should set the standard for clear, open and honest communication. Kids will follow! Breathe in, breathe out, and remember - September is right around the corner!


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