Even before our children can utter their first “mama,” we’re communicating with them on a daily basis. What I’m learning though, after 6+ years of being a parent, is that often what I say and what gets heard are two totally different things.
I say, Hurry up, we’re running late for church…my kids hear, Let’s see who can take the longest to put on their shoes.
I say, It’s time to take a nap…to my kids that translates to, Time to play in our rooms.
I say, Eat all your dinner…my kids hear, Time for let’s make a deal. Can I eat 1 carrot or 2 carrots?
If you’re like me and have ever struggled with getting your point across with your kids, here’s how to quickly test your communication skills:
Gather the family together and hand everyone a blank sheet of paper.
Give them two rules: One, they cannot ask any questions. Two, they should not look at what anyone else is doing.
Next, without showing them what to do, instruct them to fold their pieces of paper in half and then tear off the top corner. (Again, no questions and no showing them what to do.)
Once they’re done, have them fold their pieces of paper in half and then tear off the top corner two or three more times, depending on the size of the paper.
After the third round of folding and tearing, ask everyone to unfold their paper and hold them up.
What you all will most likely see is that everyone’s paper looks different. Why? Because everyone hears and receives what’s communicated to them differently.
I was at my son’s school’s PTA program when a presenter asked us go through this very exercise. While the instructions seemed so simple, it was amazing how differently all the papers being held up across the room looked. It was funny to think that we’d all heard the same instructions, and yet we all took them in many different ways.
It was a fantastic reminder that while we think we may be speaking clearly to our kids, it’s not a guarantee they’re hearing what we’re trying to say. So before we lose it, we might take a moment to ask ourselves:
- Have I been as specific as I can be?
- Have I provided examples or models of what I’m asking or telling my kids to do?
- Have I allowed room for questions–either for the kids to ask me questions or for me to ask questions of the kids to make sure they understand what I’ve said?