Talk About a Mixed Message!

Communication with Kids can sometimes be tricky. This has become our springtime ritual on school mornings:

Lily: Mom?

Me:  Yes?

Lily:  I don’t have to wear my coat today, do I?

Me: Why would you think that? Have you checked the outside thermometer?

Lily:  Yes! It says 80!

Me: No, it actually says 30. And it is snowing. So, yes, you wear the coat today.
Lily: You always say that when it is 80.

Note to self: I simply have to teach that child how to read a thermometer!

Springtime Celebrations in the Snow? Talk About a Mixed Communication Message. Here is another example of mixed messages.

As a child growing up, I always got new shoes at Easter time (now we call it Resurrection Sunday). That was my clue that spring was here.

I remember begging my mother to wear them to school because I liked the sound they made on the pavement when I walked to school. Sure beat the sloppy drag of winter boots!

Our spring celebrations were often held in blinding snow storms. Occasionally, drives to church Easter Sunday morning were done in great peril on icy roads that only Northern Ohio winds could produce straight off Lake Erie.

But as a child, I was as anxious to shed the dark, cold of winter as my child is today. She doesn’t know that the changing season isn’t the total cause of the heightened hopefulness she feels as she tries to bring spring in by sheer will power. That hopefulness is, instead, the promise of a change, something different, new.

To me, people seemed happier in spring. They were kinder in spring after a long winter. Their faces changed into softer glances, their words no longer had that razor sharpness to them that existed as everyone waited for winter to pass. Children notice those things.

These days, as a trainer for future foster parents, I read recently in our curriculum that a child will process a small percentage of what an adult is saying and process a little more of an adult’s body language as they say it.  Therefore, our communication with kids needs to be the whole package, so to speak: What they hear and what they see. But hold on! The most awesome piece isn’t either of those.

The most surprising thing is that children learn more about their parents’ verbal messages by the emotions displayed in their faces. You can be saying the kindest things, but if your face doesn’t reflect kindness, that child will not clearly “hear” the kind words. Those are truly mixed messages!

Cleaning Up Our Communication with Kids

Imagine that! There is more communication taking place in how we appear to a child than what we are actually saying to them. That’s how they are wired.

The takeaway on this is that, for me, I need to slow down when I communicate with my child and make sure I am conveying what I want the child to hear from me. If I am frustrated with her, I can’t be sarcastic with a mixed-message look. If I am letting her know how special she is to me, I need to have that reflected in my face, not the hurried glance she sometimes gets as we talk about other less-important things.

Come to think of it, that isn’t bad advice for all our communication opportunities, whether it is with children or peers. Good communication skills, including great listening skills,  enable the other person to know they were heard. As we just discovered, good communication skills also assure us that what we are saying to our children is actually what we intend them to hear.

Helpful? Let me hear from you.

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