Hard conversations are not high on my favorite-things-to-do list. I dreaded them when my kids were little, and I was worried about how they would respond. I also dreaded them when my kids were teens, and I knew how they would react. A lot of those hard conversations centered around youth sports and the experiences my kids were having.
But hard conversations are the first step to finding solutions and if you are not willing to have them with your children – or anyone, for that matter – then you are missing out on the joy that can result from conversations that result in resolution.
Why are Hard Conversations so Hard?
It’s never easy to confront someone about an uncomfortable topic. We don’t want others to feel attacked, and we don’t want to feel attacked. We are afraid of being misunderstood. We fear hurting someone, and we dread being hurt ourselves.
It’s so much easier just to ignore things and continue on through life as if nothing is wrong. But like a splinter that never gets pulled out, those issues will continue to fester underneath the skin and lead to even greater pain somewhere down the road. Ignoring a problem never solves it.
Tools to Take into a Hard Conversation
The ability to ask and then LISTEN. If you are starting a hard conversation, whether it’s with a coach, fellow parent, or your child, start with a question, not an assumption. And then be willing to listen, without judgment or without feeling the need to interrupt and defend yourself.
The ability to respond, not react. In a recent hard conversation with one of my grown children, I had to be intentional about my responses. I knew that reacting would shut them up or frustrate them. It’s okay to be silent for a moment while you gather your thoughts. Speaking without thinking could stop the conversation in its tracks and the splinter will be left to fester.
The ability to admit when you’re wrong. I was raised in a home where it was assumed that Mom and Dad were always right. Although I loved my parents, I knew that I did not want to adopt that parental mindset. The phrase “just because I’m the parent” does not open the door to resolution and change.
As you listen to your kids, ask yourself, “Am I in the right here? What could I do differently that would help with this problem?”
The ability to be teachable and accept your responsibility in the problem. In that hard conversation I recently had with my child, I was faced with a choice: Would I admit that maybe I was contributing to the problem and it was not all their fault?
Parents, we are not perfect. We make mistakes. We are human, and if we are truly about the business of raising champions–kids who grow up strong, compassionate, and full of integrity–we must accept that sometimes we are part of the problem. It’s not always the kids’ fault!
Pull Out the Splinter and Let it Heal!
Although there are definitely times when parents must put their foot down and be firm, I’d like to suggest that the first option be a conversation instead–that may or may not be hard.
It just might be that if hard conversations were the first choice, parents might not always have to resort to the hard-nosed approach.
Going back to the splinter analogy–the hard-nosed approach without a hard conversation is like putting a Band-Aid on a splintered finger. The cause of the pain is still there, but now at least it’s covered up and dealt with, at least in your parental perspective.
If you have that hard conversation and pull out the splinter, there may still be a bit of pain and healing may still be needed. But healing and resolution cannot happen if the splinter remains embedded.
It’s up to you. Will you be brave enough to have a conversation that matters? If not, you could be trading short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction.
Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.