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Smart Talk: Six Ways to Speak to Our Kids

This excerpt is from How To Say It to Your Kids by Dr. Paul Coleman.

The "R" in TENDER stands for Reporting. This refers to:

  • Statements of fact ("We're going to Grandma's today")
  • Common questions ("How was school?")
  • Personal opinion ("I like going to the lake...")
  • Expressing feelings ("I'm annoyed that...")
  • Making requests ("Please empty the dishwasher").

Typically, well-meaning parents use Reporting as a poor substitute for some of the other approaches. Saying "I don't like it when you fight in the car" is reporting a feeling. But if the parent means 'stop fighting," she should say that. Parents caught up in New-Age thinking assume they are showing respect to a youngster when they use sweet phrases like "We don't do that in this house, Kenny. Remember what I told you before?" The more words you use to get your point across to a child, the more likely you are being vague, confusing your child, and undermining your authority.

Sometimes a concerned parent talks about her own feelings and mistakes it for empathy ("I'm so sad that you hurt yourself"). Generally, normal, everyday conversation includes a lot of Reporting that fills in the gaps between opportunities to teach, praise, command, or empathize with your child. But don't confuse Reporting with any of the other TENDER approaches. Otherwise, the message your child hears will not be the message you intend.

How to Say It

  • "Tell me what you learned at your swimming lesson." (Make a statement instead of asking open-ended questions like "How was your swimming lesson?" You are more likely to get an informative response.)
  • "We were late getting to the ball game and you missed seeing the home run. That's frustrating. I"m sorry." (Reporting a statement of fact as a preface to an empathic comment.)
  • "Take off your headphones, please. I like it better when you are part of the family during dinner." (Reporting your preference after telling your child what to do.)
  • "I love you."
  • "I forgive you."
  • "I'm sorry."

How Not to Say It

  • Reporting that you like or dislike something when you really mean "Stop doing that!"

If your communication efforts have been less than satisfying, you've probably overused one or more of the TENDER approaches. Try your hand at a different approach or use some in combination. You will likely get better results.

This excerpt is from How To Say It to Your Kids by Dr. Paul Coleman.



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