R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
against the development of a resilient mindset in his son since it contained an accusatory tone, a tone focusing on Michael’s shortcomings rather than on his strengths. It did not offer assistance or hope.
Covey (1989), describing the characteristics of effective people, advocates that we first attempt to understand before being understood. What he is suggesting is that prior to expressing our views, we would be well advised to practice empathy by listening actively and considering what messages the other person is delivering. Effective communication is implicated in many behaviors associated with resilience, including interpersonal skills, empathy, and problem-solving and decision-making abilities.
Given the significance of effective communication skills in our lives, during my therapeutic activities and my workshops I frequently pose the following questions for parents to consider when they interact with their children:
“Do my messages convey and teach respect?”
“Am I fostering realistic expectations in my children?”
“Am I helping my children learn how to solve problems?”
“Am I nurturing empathy and compassion?”
“Am I promoting self-discipline and self-control?”
“Am I setting limits and consequences in ways that permit my children to learn from me rather than resent me?”
“Am I truly listening to and validating what my children are saying?”
“Do my children know that I value their opinion and input?”
“Do my children know how special they are to me?”
“Am I assisting my children to appreciate that mistakes and obstacles are part of the process of learning and growing?”
“Am I comfortable in acknowledging my own mistakes and apologizing to my children when indicated?”
If parents keep these questions in mind, they can communicate in ways that reinforce a resilient mindset. However, this task is not always easy to accomplish as was evident at a family session with Mr. and Mrs. Berlin and their 13-year-old daughter Jennifer. The Berlins sought a consultation given Jennifer’s sadness and what they called “her pessimistic attitude towards everything.”
At the first session, Jennifer said, “I feel very sad and unhappy.”
Mrs. Berlin instantly countered,“ But there’s no reason for you to feel this way. We are a loving family and have always given you what you need.”
Jennifer’s expression suggested both sadness and anger at her mother’s remark. While Mrs. Berlin may have intended to reassure her daughter, her comment served to rupture communication. People do not want to be told how they should or should not feel. If someone says she feels depressed, she does not want to hear that there is no reason to feel this way.
What might Mrs. Berlin have said? A good place to start is validation. Parents must first validate what their child is saying. Validation does not mean you agree with the other person’s statement, but that you convey to that person you “hear” what is being said. Consider the following response that Mrs. Berlin might have offered:
“I know you’ve been feeling depressed. I’m not certain why, but I’m glad you could tell us. That’s why we’re seeing Dr. Brooks to try and figure out what will help you to feel better and also, how dad and I can help.”
If the messages of parents are filled with empathy, validation, and support, a climate is established for nurturing resilience.