Speaking Up Starts at Home!
By Roma Khetarpal
When I was a teenager, my dad and I would get into long intellectual debates and passionate discussions. My mom would say to me, “No need to be so open. Talk properly to your papa. When I was your age, we wouldn’t even make eye contact with your grandfather. Have some shame.” I’d respond, “Oh, Mama, I’m just sharing my views and opinions.” When my daughter was a teenager, if she had a “discussion” with her dad, I would catch myself saying something similar to her: “Stop arguing with your papa. Be respectful. I would never speak to my father like that.” And her answer inevitably was, “Mama, it’s too bad that you couldn’t have open discussions with Nana. I’m not fighting or arguing, I’m just speaking my mind.” I remember how annoyed I would get when my mom somehow considered an open discussion—especially a heated one—as a sign of disrespect. Interestingly enough, in a much milder way, so did I.
Why is it that we teach our children to be strong and confident, to stand up for what they believe in and speak their mind with everybody… except us, the parents? Why is speaking up and expressing one’s views considered a sign of strength, grit, resilience, self-reliance, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-respect with anyone except parents?
When our children speak up in a certain tone of voice and express opinions or views unlike ours, we consider it a threat. We make it personal. We interrupt and remind them who’s the “boss” with a “Don’t speak to me like that” or “Lower your voice,” or “That’s enough; go to your room.” Perhaps children who are more comfortable and relaxed with their parents tend to use more emotion and filter less when they speak to us, but isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? Aren’t we supposed to be the safest space for our children? It is in our home that our children let their guard down, feel comfortable, test the waters, and push the limits. And we should be okay with that.
When a discussion—even a heated one—starts, keep an open mind and focus on your kids’ point of view instead of their tone of voice. If they have forgotten to practice verbal hygiene, and you have the urge to jump in, keep the following points in mind:
1. Pass up being in control.
Control is strongly inherent in our South Asian community. We are raised by authoritarian parents. But you can break that cycle and take the leap into mindful and conscious parenting. Parenting is not a dictatorship, it is a directorship. It is not a position of power, it is a position to empower. We should never desire to be in control—especially when there is brainstorming or a discussion—only to be in charge when needed. Children who speak their minds are children who honor their own voice. We want that for our children, so we have to make room for that ourselves first. We are their practice field.
2. Be open to change. This requires both an open heart and an open mind.
Ask yourself, “Is my child making a valid point?” If so, don’t interrupt; let them keep going. Discussions, particularly heated ones, take high amounts of intellectual and emotional energy. Don’t interrupt that flow. Don’t give your opinion. To validate your child, jump in with an “Uh-huh, oh wow. Okay. I understand. Really?” Use simple one-word or single- phrase comments that do not derail the child’s train of thought but show that you are listening and absorbing his or her point of view. This will take patience on your part, but it will enhance your child’s real-world skills and confidence. When we honor our kids, we build their grit and character.
3. If your child has crossed the line mildly, by all means, bring it up, but not until he or she is done talking.
However, if your child has truly exceeded boundaries, remember my favorite motto, “When you’re right, practice being kind, first.” Keep your cool. Wait until they’ve finished, and then practice emotional intelligence with a tool I call Dealing with the Feeling. The steps are: Spot it—Spot the feeling, (angry, sad, frustrated, etc.) Say it—Say it out loud. “I see that you’re feeling angry about this.” Okay it—Validate the feeling. “It’s ok to be get angry. It’s what we all feel at first when someone disagrees with our opinion. If it were me, I would feel the same.” Harness the teaching moment with integrity, respect, and emotional intelligence to calm the emotions and open up dialogue. Then emphasize the lesson with a calm and kind, “We are all entitled to express our points of view, but we must do so with respect for others and ourselves, and this will not happen if you start using unacceptable language or talking down to others, right?” Try to pull them into the conversation. We can either nurture our children’s voice or stifle it. Our job is to encourage kids to speak up and express their thoughts. This is the first sign of effective communication. It is a sign of leadership and success. The children at home today will go on to innovate, create, and shape the world. It is our job to preserve their self-confidence, self-worth, and self-respect. The way we respond to our kids becomes their auto-response to their siblings, peers, teachers, and future colleagues and families. We all know that children are expert imitators, so give them something worthwhile to imitate.
More About Roma
Roma Khetarpal bookRoma Khetarpal is Masalamommas parenting columnist. She is the founder and CEO of Tools of Growth, through which she helps parents raise kids to “Be Happy, Think Positive, and Do Good.” With parenting classes, community outreach, articles, reviews, and blog posts, Tools of Growth provides parents with simple, easy-to-remember, and effective communication tools that can help them build a strong foundation and relationship with their children. By synthesizing the themes and concepts of the personal growth and emotional intelligence fields, along with cutting-edge parenting research, Khetarpal delivers her message in an accessible, reassuring, and personally empowering way.
She is also the author of the “The ‘Perfect’ Parent: 5 Tools for Using Your Inner Perfection to Connect With Your Kids.” In “The ‘Perfect’ Parent,” Khetarpal writes that it’s the dynamic between parents and children that makes the difference. She writes that parents can draw on their inner resources — what she calls inner perfection — to enhance the way they connect with their children, building trust and thereby making it second nature for children to reach out to their parents, strengthening that bond for life.
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