The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 16, 2014

Sarah Coyne: Nag less, talk more about your feelings

JOPLIN, Mo. — It seems like the more unbroken hours of time I spend with my children -- like during a snow-extended Christmas break -- the more I begin to nag. It must not be enough to guide them patiently in the behaviors they'll need as they grow into adults, because somewhere around day eight of cabin fever, I stop guiding and start ranting.

What should be a simple statement about chores turns into a lecture about stewardship and personal responsibility. What might be a laughable mishap morphs into the worst atrocity anybody has ever committed. What could be a lesson becomes a punishment, and we're all the more angry for it.

I end up telling my kids all the ways in which they're wrong and outlining the many ways they could have been better behaved. In a sad way, all this does is provide bricks for the walls my children will eventually erect between themselves and me.  

In an effort to curb the ever-annoying nag and improve relations no matter how long we're all cooped up together, I've made a relieving discovery: Acknowledging feelings out loud can accomplish more toward getting a point across than nagging ever will.

Not only does it calm me down, helping me realize I don't have to address each affront with an angry lecture, but it's also a more effective manner of reaching them when criticism is threatening to take over.

If you're like me and feel better knowing what you might say before you're served with a dose of grating behavior, it could go something like this:

"The way you said that made me feel very sad."

"I got scared when you climbed so high after I told you not to."

"I'm feeling really angry that you chose not to follow the rules."

Because troublesome words and actions are nearly never saved for parents alone, it's also useful to name feelings when addressing conflict between kids as well:

"He seems very irritated when you do that."

"It looks like she's feeling left out. I bet that doesn't feel nice."

These statements lack the criticism and censure that can sometimes follow when we get upset with our children's actions. But they get the point across that their choices affect other people and have consequences, all without lecturing. Your decisions about how to handle those consequences can still stand as they always have, only now you can stay calm and deflect the endless haranguing with a quick, heartfelt statement.

It quickly becomes a lesson in empathy, as well. If our kids are repeatedly alerted to the feelings of others -- whether they come from parents, siblings or strangers -- they're being exposed to selflessness in a way that becomes a model for healthy compassion.

When we transfer our focus toward sharing statements of feeling instead of merely harping on their mistakes, we allow our kids to develop a personal responsibility for their words and actions --Êall while allowing ourselves to back away from the nagging that drives everyone a little bit crazy.

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