Some time ago, my daughter Eden had a very busy time with her Event Management studies, work and social life, and Ronit and I tried to keep up with her by asking for her plans and then keeping each other up to date.
One day, Eden said to me “I have no classes tomorrow”, and I thought she might be spending the day at home, catching up, and maybe we can spend some time together.
In the evening, when we were talking about the next day, however, Ronit said to me “Eden is going to study tomorrow”.
“That can’t be”, I said, “She told me she wasn’t going to study”.
“I don’t know what she told you”, said Ronit, “But I know she is going out around 10am tomorrow, so we need to drive her at the same time we take the kids to school”.
Eventually, we worked out that Eden was not going to study in class, but was going to get together with her friends and work on their assignments.
This reminded me of a story I heard a long time ago:
A family had a special tree, which gave lovely fruit once a year. There were not many trees like this around, so the family could sell the fruit and make some nice extra income.
The problem was that bats also liked this kind of fruit and, as soon as they could smell it ripening, they would eat it on the tree, before it could be picked. Luckily, if the family managed to cover all the fruit with brown paper bags in time, the bats could not get to them and the fruit could finish ripening and be nice and whole for the market.
One day, most of the family was going out, leaving only one of the girls at home. The father turned to her before he left and said, “Until we come back, I want you to wrap all the fruit on the tree in brown paper bags. Here are the bags, here are some rubber bands and here is the ladder. Take your time and make sure not to damage the fruit, so we can take sell them later”.
“OK, Daddy”, said the girl, feeling very proud her father was entrusting the precious fruit to her care.
When the family returned, they were greeted by the beaming girl, who took her father’s hand to show him what she had done during their time away. “Look, Daddy, I wrapped all the fruit in the bags, just like your told me”.
The father looked and wanted to cry. The girl had picked all the fruit from the tree, wrapped them in the brown paper bags, closed all the bags with the rubber bands and arranged the bags neatly on the floor.
The father had not communicated the purpose of the wrapping to his daughter, and while she had followed his instructions precisely, she had completely missed the point.
So what am I trying to say here?
When we talk to other people, we make assumptions or presuppositions. Unfortunately, those assumptions are based on our very own experiences in life and may be completely inappropriate for someone else.
When Eden told me she would not have classes the next day, I took that to mean “no studies at all”, but that was not the case. When Ronit told me Eden was going to study, she left out “with friends”, perhaps assuming that this did not matter, but it did.
This is especially true when we talk to our kids. We may think they know us well and are familiar with the background information required to understand what we say, but this is very often not true.
Even if our kids have shared an experience with us, they could have gotten a completely different impression of it than we have. Therefore, when we say something based on our impression, we may or may not get our message across to our kids.
How do we ensure our messages are communicated correctly to our kids?
The extreme, of course, would be to assume nothing. This means we need to explain absolutely everything needed for the understanding of our message – break it up into tiny pieces and deliver them all.
However, this may be a bit of overkill, resulting in a lot of wasted time and frustration on both sides.
Instead, I would recommend the following:
- Be aware of your assumptions when you want to say something. Ask yourself, “Will the other person (my child) be able to relate to what I am saying, or is there something I should explain first?”
- As you talk, pay attention to the body language and facial expression of your listener. If they seem to be uncomfortable, you might have just missed them. Restate it in different words first, and if this does not help, backtrack and explain some of the underlying things.
- Ask your listener to restate the message in their own words. If the feedback is different from your original intention, this should give you clues as to what has gone missing and you can clarify, until the message has been fully communicated.
- Special note: sometimes, assuming your child is available to listen to you is incorrect. Kids are frequently overwhelmed by emotions and may need some help relaxing before they can be open to new input. This is especially true with teens and “grownup talk”…
Is this clear?