Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 02:07 PM
Author: admin

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-© HaywireMedia -

Last week we introduced the relationship pyramid and discussed how safety and security provide the foundation on which relationships depend. The more substantial the experience of feeling safe and secure, the stronger the relationship will be and the easier the transition to the increasing intimacy of the upper levels of the pyramid.

Until feelings of safety and security are firmly in place, the higher levels of relationship remain stubbornly out of reach. Efforts to teach, or discipline fall on deaf ears. Until kids feel connected, they don’t care or give much credence to what parents, ( or teachers, coaches, etc.) want.

Think about it. As an adult, the opinions of total strangers have little impact on your choices. Personal values, beliefs and priorities drive you, not the instructions of some random passer-by on the street. The influence of public opinion is minor compared to the sway of those about whom you really care and with whom you feel securely connected.  Kids too, listen to those they care about and to whom they feel connected.

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-relationship-pyramid-Mirror

The next level of the Relationship Pyramid focuses on Mirroring and belonging. Mirroring is interactive. It involves a “Serve and Return” loop. Mirroring occurs between parent and child; sometimes the parent leads the mirroring. Other times the child mirrors what the parent models.

In the former, a parent notices a behavior in the child and repeats it back to them–not in a mocking way. But in a way that says, I “see” you and accept you.

Kids need assistance in learning to identify and name the emotions they feel and to accurately recognize the emotions displayed by others.

(Events from their history may be causing them to “go on the alert.” Discover what these triggers are. Validate their perceptions and help them to recognize that in the past it was true that  when a person from their past looked that way/acted that way, it indicated danger.)

Be careful to maintain  congruency about your own emotions. If children infer that you are angry, and their perception is accurate, own your emotion. Validate the accuracy of their “read.” Do not deny your emotions; this only confuses kids and makes it more difficult for them to develop accuracy in reading social cues.

How can parents help kids develop a broad emotional vocabulary that will serve them well, enhance their ability to socialize and foster the sense that they belong? Teaching children to recognize and name emotions provides them the vocabulary with which to think about and communicate their feelings.

Mirroring-Belonging-Building Healthy-Relationships-Father and toddler son playingPlayfulness plays an important–essential–role in creating and strengthening  connection between parent and child. Parents can engage in silly face games which involve mirroring on a purely physical level.  Check out this link for several ideas for emotional literacy activities including puppetry, miming, mirrors and more. (Practicing these skill-building activities when parent and child are in a relaxed mood, not when  a child is in the middle of an emotional meltdown.)

For another fun, joint activity, take pictures of each other as you dramatize different feelings. Turn the photos into  a matching game (similar to “Concentration” a popular child’s “matching” game.) Have fun. Enjoy spending time together, knitting that bond that connects while simultaneously helping your child acquire essential social skills.

How do you consciously mirror your child’s emotions?


Listening to Understand, Not to Refute

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 @ 06:07 PM
Author: admin

Listen to understand

Authentic listening is one of the most essential communication skills and one of the hardest to master. Often, we listen with an ear to refute or rebut what the speaker says. This is especially common when we listen to our kids. We seek ways to convince them of the rightness of our own position, and/or the unreasonableness of theirs. We focus on getting our point across instead of listening to their point of view.

Imagine what might happen if we chose to turn off the Gotcha! mentality and decided to listen deeply, to attend to each point the child is making. Without interrupting them. Without predetermining our response. Without telegraphing judgment, doubt or other negative response in either word or body language.

Imagine asking for clarity until we truly “get” their point and can respectfully repeat their points precisely.  How many of us have ever delivered that level of deep listening? Whaaat? You might be thinking, “I’m not letting the kiddos run the show.. I’m not giving in to their whining, etc.” That is not what we propose.

understand not agreeHere’s the pivotal distinction: listening for authentic understanding does not promise agreement; it promises a respectful, open heart and mind. Once we genuinely hear each of the speaker’s points, we can see both the position and their intended goal.

From this point, we can seek to build agreement, compromise of even disagreement. People will be more inclined to accept your response if they feel fully heard. Of course, there is no guarantee they’ll be happy but they will have had an experience rooted in respect. That interaction builds connection, teaches them  good communication skills and affirms the Family Value of respect. Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of listening? Recall how affirming that felt. Now imagine choosing to be that kind of listener. Imagine the potential impact on your family…

Distinction.Think Speak Hear From the vantage point of Intentional Parenting, we strive to engage in ways that build attachment, embody our Family Values, and successfully communicate our points of view. Stack the odds for a successful conversation by following these steps to mastering Deep Listening.

Consider timing: Deep Listening requires that both listener and speaker be fully engaged. Choose the time for your conversations; the immediate moment might not be your best option. For example, the middle of a play-off game, during one’s favorite TV show,  etc, probably won’t attract the most attentive or cooperative response.

Rephrase their points in your own words Then ask for affirmation that you have stated their point of view correctly. Repeat this sequence until they confirm that you’ve “gotten” their position.

State your response with empathy and respect. Monitor your tone and body language. Resist the temptation to be dismissive, irritated or, patronizing; these will undermine the entire process. Attitude will directly affect your effort to communicate respectfully.

1 conversation 3 POVsBe aware of the distinction between what you intend to say, what you actually say and what the listener thinks you said. An entire universe of misunderstanding can take place in those spaces. Note the graphic on the left for some examples of how conversations can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Both parties have interior conversations with themselves about what is spoken, what was intended and what they inferred was being said. Often the “history” between the two colors the interaction more than what is actually said. Both parent and child need to periodically update their inner transcript to reflect and acknowledge changes in behavior. In the absence of this updating, any efforts to change go unnoticed and former, less healthy patterns will most likely reestablish themselves.

Track progressTrack your progress. Observe how this level of authentic listening impacts your family dynamics. Acknowledge the small improvements. Every step is valuable. Notice the changes in your feelings, family morale and the effectiveness of your conversations. How has this positive focus spilled over into other areas of family dynamics?

Review any less-than-successful interactions to identify the points at which your Intention fell apart or fell short of your goal. Make those leverage points your focus as you recommit to improving family communication.

Courage beginner

It takes courage to be a beginner. None of us like to look or feel inadequate.  But it is worth the struggle! Acknowledge that it is not easy to master new skills. It will take many times at bat before consistent improve occurs. Allow yourself–and the rest of the family–time and practice to accomplish this goal. Remain steadfast in the face of any failures and turn those shortfalls into stepping stones to success.

When will you take on this mindful communication practice? 

Listening and Speaking: Two Sides of Relationship Communication

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 @ 02:06 PM
Author: admin

coach.blogAdoption complicates family life; it brings tangled emotions, high stakes, and passionate commitment. Adoption also adds the challenge of handling inevitable grief, loss, and identity issues of everyone in the family. (Yes, that includes both children and parents!)

Coaching develops strategies for handling the realities in our lives. It can help families connect and get along better. One tactic is to focus on communication because it is a foundational pillar of successful relationships.

We’ve addressed communication many times in previous posts. For example, we’ve explored The Five Love Languages, the use of therapeutic narratives and the importance of truth telling. (Follow these links to read more.)

With this in mind, remember in our previous post, we considered the importance of Intentionality in communication. By first clarifying in our own minds whether we are making a request of someone or stating a requirement, we can formulate conversations with accuracy and respect. This amplifies the likelihood of cooperation and helps avert misunderstandings, disappointments, and frustrations.

request or requirement comparison.blogOnce we are clear on which kind of statement we wish to make, our next step is to frame that intention as precisely as possible. To accomplish this, we must understand the elements of both a requirement and a request, what they share in common, and what specifically distinguishes one from the other. Unless we understand the difference, our communications will lack clarity, lead to confusion, and our relationships will suffer adversely.

Refer to the graphic on the left. Notice how similar the two are. It is no wonder both speaker and listener get confused. As you can see, both statements need a focused speaker, a focused listener, specific expectations, and specific completion time. Let’s examine each element individually.

Why is a focused speaker important? Consider how many times you’ve spoken without pausing to gather your thoughts. Perhaps your attention was preoccupied and you delivered an answer, gave permission or, agreed to something which you’ve quickly regretted or wanted to recant. We’ve all been there—at home, at work and with friends. So yes, good communication requires a focused speaker.

half listening .blogWhy is a focused listener important? Ever felt like you were talking to a wall? Pretty irritating, right? (And I assert that we’ve all been “guilty” of this “half listening.”)

None of us like to experience this, whether as the speaker who is being half-ignored or as the listener who will be held accountable for a response made on auto-pilot. By ensuring that the listener is actually paying attention, we can avert a lot of conflict.

Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce the number of times we encounter statements like the ones in this graphic on the left?


kitchen clean up.blogBoth Requirements and Requests benefit from specific expectations. This seems obvious and yet so often we fall into habits of vagueness. Whether between spouses, or parent and child, in the absence of specifics, there is a potential minefield for disagreement. Consider the topic of chores. Parents often assign kitchen duty to kids. A parent’s idea of a clean kitchen can vary wildly from a child’s. (Of course, expectations should be appropriate to a child’s age.)Address this problem by spelling out the specifics of the task in a family meeting. Then write down the details for  and post them where they can be quickly accessed. (The fridge makes a perfect spot.)

Another essential detail of both a Requirement and a Request is a specific completion time. By when must the task be completed? When we leave the time vague, we open ourselves up to frustration, anger, or nagging—and its partner–annoyance. Remember a time when you asked a child or spouse to tidy up (kitchen, workshop, garage, desk, etc.) How often did they immediately begin the task? How often did they delay? How often did you feel yourself getting annoyed because they didn’t start quickly enough? How often did that lead to nagging on your part and annoyance on theirs? How often did you each get more vested in your positions and engage in an inner conversation that made you “right” and them “wrong”? Stress builds and builds until we lose control. Things get ugly. Everyone feels distressed.

handshake on blue sky and sunlight background

Imagine the benefit that can result from mutually agreeing on a completion time, e.g,  8:00 p.m. Sunday. This specificity replaces vague terms like, “Yeah, I will,” or “Quit bugging me,” or dismissive responses like “later,” which may actually refer to some time before the end of the millennium. But when an exact completion time of 8:00 p.m. is clear to both parties, there is no confusion. No need to get agitated at a temporary delay because this deferral is not defiance.

Response or negotiation is the one element that distinguishes a Request from a Requirement. In a request, compliance is optional. Any or all of the first four elements may be adjusted. There may be immediate agreement on some of the details but not all. Discussion continues until both speaker and listener agree on each point. The conversation is  calm as each party works to hammer out an acceptable deal.

How might using the communication practice outlined in this post benefit your family? Which step presents your greatest opportunity for improvement?

Can Courtesy Create Confusion?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 @ 02:06 PM
Author: admin

 Repairing a relationship breachIn our previous post we examined how to repair breaches in our relationships. Families who regularly practice this skill improve the quality of their relationships. One obvious point that cannot be overstated: Begin and end with connection. This is the conduit to effective communication. It opens hearts and minds.

As Dr. Karen Purvis taught, “Connect before correct.” In the absence of connection our words are processed as static, background noise that is easily dismissed. To get children to care about and listen to us, they must feel connected to us. Think about it. Connection is just as important to us as adults; we tune out those who feel peripheral or irrelevant to us and choose to attend only to those whom we judge as important. We do not allow acquaintances or strangers to dictate our actions. We heed sources which we value, those to which we feel connected.

But even the healthiest relationships experience conflict. Most often, these difficulties arise out of communication mismatches. We may think we conveyed our intent clearly but often we have not. Consider these common tripwires. Sometimes we expect family members to read our mind. We feel wounded when they do not guess accurately because they should know. Accurate mind reading is after all, an unreliable and unlikely ability. We stew. Tensions increase.

Another common communication mismatch occurs when we give directives. In an effort to be courteous and not appear overly bossy, we may say,

“Please do the dishes,”

“Please, clean up your room.”

“Do your homework.”

“Please be home at a reasonable hour.”


Think back to a time when you spoke similar statements. Most likely, you expected compliance. But, some people—especially kids and spouses–might interpret these as requests and see fulfillment as an option.

In our mind fulfillment of these tasks is NOT optional. We expect action. And most likely, we want it promptly. We’ve fallen into a common communication error. In each of these statements we’ve disguised a requirement as a request and set everyone up for frustration and failure. The completion time frame is undefined. Our idea of a clean room probably differs dramatically from a teen’s standards. This is a classic set up for conflict. What is a parent to do?

Request or requirementWith a dash of intentionality, many conflicts can be avoided. First, we must be clear in our own minds. What is our intention? Are we making a request or a requirement? To help answer that question let’s establish the distinction between a request and a requirement.

The most obvious is that a requirement must be done while a request is optional and may even be open to negotiation.

In our next post we’ll focus on how to frame a request clearly and ensure completion.


Many Happy Returns!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 @ 08:12 PM
Author: admin

Baby looking out from a giftbox near a Christmas treeAt GIFT Family Services, we constantly look for ways to help families connect and create positive relationships and moments of togetherness that build healthy bonding in a family. A Facebook video posted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University struck us as a wonderful blog topic for this holiday season. It explained a concept called "Serve and Return"

This refers to the feedback loop that occurs when communicating with others. It involves give-and-take, attentive eye-contact, deep listening and an interest in connecting with another. This ability to communicate authentically is the most valuable present we can give our children. It is not something that can be bought but it is something that can be taught.

??????????????Although humans have been programmed to be social beings and to enjoy interacting, the skill set on which it depends must be modeled. It takes courage to reach out to others, to risk being vulnerable, and ask for what one wants. This innate ability develops through observation and repetition. It channels through each of the senses. Vocalizations, gestures, touch, tone of voice, eye contact— all contribute to the communication loop.

In families, parents instinctively teach this essential life skill to their kids by responding accurately to a child’s actions. When baby coos and her parents coo back, when baby smiles and her parents return the smile, or when baby reaches out and her mom or dad reaches back, she learns that her effort produces a response. Baby “Serves” and parents “Return.” This simple process produces profound, life-shaping results. She discovers her ‘voice” in the world and learns that her actions produce results. She perceives the world as a safe place, one that acknowledges her presence, responds to her overtures, and makes room for her contributions. Most importantly, she realizes that her family is that safe base from which she can explore the larger world and to which she can return to refuel.
GIFT.parent and childWhen we share 360˚ of emotion, we show our children that they too can be real with us. They can share their joy as well as their fear, their curiosity as well as their worry, their anger as well as their love. This gives them permission to be authentic and builds trust. Trust is foundational to healthy attachment.

This season give your children the gift of your focused, responsive attention and your relationship will glow with an invaluable holiday light. Watch the video here: