Communicating Effectively

Some years back I used to run parents' and children's groups in effective parenting skills. When I asked parents and children separately what changes they thought would help improve the parent-child relationship, the answer was almost universal. Children said things would be better ifonly their parents stopped nagging them—a matter that was nearly always at the top of their lists. Parents, on the other hand, said things would be better if they did not have to keep nagging at their children—a top item on their lists. This fascinated me. Both saw nagging as a common problem in their relationship, both found it undesirable, yet both continued to do the things that kept the pattern going. For parent and child alike, nagging had become a major, common, but undesired pattern in their communication.

Communicating with stories may avoid the problem of parents' lecturing, preaching, or nagging. Certainly, there are times when direct and clear communications are desirable, such as if your child is about to step into the road in front of a bus. This is not the time to relate a lengthy and indirect tale about the undesirability of stepping in front of a bus or the means for avoiding it. However, there are other times when the indirection of metaphoric stories is an appropriate, and effective, method of communication that may avoid the lecturing, preaching, or nagging. Jeffery Zeig, Director of The Milton H Erickson Foundation (2004, in personal correspondence), said that informa tion may help youngsters do different things but stories create experiences that enable them to be different.

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