Tag Archives: statements

Sept ’19 Q&A – What to Do About Lying

Q. My 9 yo son recently stole some money, told me he didn’t, and that his friends must have. Then he planted the money in his sister’s room to frame her before telling me to, “search my room”. I’ve no idea what to say or do. I asked him repeatedly. I left a pot out for the money to be put back anonymously, and then he hides it in his sister’s room.

A. This is a tough situation for all of you. I’m sure there are deeper issues besides the coverup of the money that have led to this situation and need to be addressed. I suspect that underneath the behavior (lying), which is always a signal to a deeper need, there are trust issues. Namely that your son doesn’t trust you because he has learned that you don’t trust him, and therefore he is doing what he can to get away with what he wants. Nothing wrong with a child trying to get what he wants. But when he becomes devious to do it, then there is a problem. The deviousness comes out of a fear that he can’t get what he wants otherwise. There is not trust.

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Opening up Communication so Sadness and Stress Doesn’t Turn to Depression

 

Q. I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason.  He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet and therefore doesn’t make friends. Being stuck at home doesn’t help. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. How can I help him open up?

A. Everything you have described is life events that have been out of your or your son’s control. Very hard but this is life happening. These are situations that people have to deal with. Depression has all to do with how those events are perceived and dealt with. If your son’s emotions are swept under the carpet, ignored or criticized, then he will be left feeling unheard, alone, misunderstood, etc. – fertile ground for depression. But if his feelings are acknowledged, even if your son doesn’t do much talking, then he is left with the sadness, grief, or anger about the situations, but everything is out in the open and feelings usually do not fester to cause depression.

We want and often expect our kids to be open with us emotionally – mothers especially. But not all kids, especially boys, are open with their thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean they feel unheard. How we communicate with them has all to do with how they feel about themselves.

When you have a non-talker, you want to make sure you don’t use the excuse that he doesn’t open up or share to ignore the situation and not talk about it. You can use what I call connective communication (best communication with anyone actually), which does not ask questions. When you ask questions – What’s wrong? How do you feel about…? Why don’t you…? – you put him on the spot, and he feels forced to come up with something. He may lie, tell you what he thinks you want to hear or what he knows you don’t want to hear to get you off his back. Rarely do questions, unless and until you have a very open connective relationship, get you the information you want.

Making statements goes a lot further:

Moving as many times as we have done lately must be quite discombobulating for you. I know how difficult change can be, and we’ve forced you into a lot of it. Changing schools is tough. I’m actually amazed at how well you have taken it. But I imagine that it has taken its toll on you. It’s really hard, right now. Period.

I wonder sometimes about how you are with not having many friends. I’m curious to know if that’s hard on you or if that is your choice. Sometimes kids your age can be tough to be around. Period.

Sometimes I think about how hard it must have been for you when Dad and I were grieving the loss of your little brother. We weren’t there for you as much as I would have liked. I feel so sad about that time – for all of us. Period.

That must have been hard to hear. I bet if I were you, I would have felt angry and confused. Period.

It’s so hard not to ask questions when you are hoping to find out answers. When there are no questions, the other person feels more inclined to listen, doesn’t feel obligated to talk, and connection gets better. Ironically, talking is more likely – but don’t expect it.

Here is an article of mine explaining this further  –
Communication 101: How to get your child to listen

What your son needs is to know he can talk with you WHEN and IF he wants to. Especially kids on the spectrum have a harder time organizing their thoughts and making sense of them enough to formulate a conversation. Talking about emotions is hard for most people, males especially, and for an ADD kid on the spectrum, it’s especially tough.

Also, boys tend to talk more when they are active, which may be why he talks to your husband more. Shoot hoops, take a bike ride or a walk. In the car, at bedtime if you are around him then (maybe not at 15), and perhaps mealtimes may be times to share yourself and how you are feeling. Your job is to model for him what it looks like to talk about emotions and values and what you think about people and events. Don’t expect it from him. If you don’t talk to him because there’s not much coming back, you are not being honest with yourself; you’re actually fearful of him.

But the important thing to know is that traumatic life events only negatively affect us long-term when they are shoved down inside and not dealt with. His ability to talk about things will come from your openness and freedom to share how you feel and think. And just naming what happened in his life to cause upset is validating for him. Eventually he will be able to talk about it himself but maybe not with you.

I would hesitate to identify him as depressed. Once you feel connection through making statements, then you can ask questions. Then you might ask, “Do you think you’re depressed?” If he responds with a yes, then ask, “Don’t you think getting help would be a good thing? Once you have made connection, he may feel differently about getting help because you can freely talk about it and help him see that this is not about him being a problem. If he still doesn’t want to, don’t force it. Hopefully he will come to it on his own.

But then again, maybe he’s not depressed! Maybe he just looks it from your point of view. It is so easy for us to project our way of seeing things onto our kids. We have to consciously be aware that what is a problem for me might not be for my child.

Quietness can easily be interpreted as depression – unfairly. Introverts are looked on with concern or pity in our society – completely the opposite in other societies. Nothing wrong with being quiet and introverted. He is likely a deeply perceptive person who works things out internally long before he expresses himself. Extraverts are the opposite. They have to talk it through to know what they think!

Often deep thinkers are not drawn to the more popular high school kids. They have nothing in common with them. It often takes years before many kids find their tribe — others who share their interests and values.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

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Communication 101: How to get your child to listen

Apologize

Communication is the core of the parent/child relationship. It makes or breaks connection. It’s not so much what we say but how we say it that conveys meaning to our children. We may want to get a point across, but tone of voice and body language determine whether the child hears what is intended or a different message entirely.

“What is it you want?” can be said with genuine curiosity and encouragement or with criticism and judgment. One reading tells the child, What you want is important to me. A different reading says, You are annoying. Leave me alone.

Good communication requires knowing when to ask questions and when to make statements. There are times for each. Usually we get it wrong.

Your child is upset. You know this because of her emotions or behavior. You want to know why, so you ask:

  • What’s wrong?
  • Why are you so upset?

Or you can’t avoid the temptation to teach if you know what happened:

  • When are you going to learn to just walk away?
  • Why do you keep provoking him?

When we want children to tell us what’s going on, we ask questions—the last thing kids want to hear, especially because they often don’t know. Questions at this stage can block communication, especially when children are not sure how their answers will be received.

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How We Say It Makes or Breaks Connection

Communication is the core of the parent/child relationship. Communication makes or breaks connection. It’s not so much what we say but how we say it that conveys meaning to our children. We may intend to teach a lesson or get a point across but our tone of voice and body language determine whether our child hears what we intend or an entirely different message.

“What is it you want?” can be said with genuine curiosity and encouragement or with criticism and judgment. One reading tells the child, What you want is important to me. A different reading says, You are an annoyance and an inconvenience. Leave me alone.

Good communication requires knowing when to ask questions and when to make statements. There are times for each. Usually we pick exactly the wrong time.

Imagine your child is clearly upset, which may show up directly in her emotions or in acting out behavior. This is the time when we want to know what is going on and so we typically ask:

  • What’s wrong?
  • Why are you so angry?
  • Why did you hit your sister?

Or we cannot avoid the temptation to get our teaching in there:

  • When are you going to learn to just walk away?
  • Why do you keep provoking her?

Sometimes we project our own experience and make assumptions with leading questions:

  • Didn’t that make you feel like you were all alone?
  • You thought you were being pushed out, didn’t you?

When we want our children to express their emotions, we are tempted to ask questions—the last thing kids want to hear. Questions at this stage can block communication rather than open it, especially when children are not sure how their answers will be received.

Questions feel like a setup to a child leaving him thinking,

  • Mom doesn’t want to know how I feel, she just wants me to do what she wants.
  • Do I answer what I think she wants to hear or what I know she doesn’t?
  • What’s Dad after? Will I get in trouble if I tell the truth?

Instead of blocking communication, we need to build bridges that invite our children to tell us what’s going on—if they know. In order to do that, they need to trust that we are not leading them in the direction that suits our agenda, trust that we can hear something tough and not tell them what to do about it, trust that we will not be dismissive. We teach them to distrust with the following questions:

  • You can’t talk to him like that. Don’t you know what that will lead to?
  • Your friend hit you and pushed you down? Oh my darling, are you alright? I’m getting on the phone with his mother right now.
  • Oh come on, you don’t really feel upset about a silly thing like that, do you?
  • You do, too, get what you want. Just yesterday we went to the park, remember?

Building bridges for opening up emotionally means statements of understanding and validation. Think period at the end rather than question mark.

  • It looks like you’re feeling really upset about something. I’d like to know what that’s about.
  • I bet if I were you, I’d feel pretty confused about what she said.
  • I wonder if you’re feeling left out. I can imagine that would hurt.
  • Or simply listen attentively.
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