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Make Sure You Get the Other Side of the Story

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

"Why doesn't he want to talk to me?"

My clients had related that morning's situation. Her son had to come to the breakfast table, complaining that she had not reminded him of a doctor's appointment. Her response had been indignant. "Why is it my job to remind you of things you should figure out yourself?" That had ended the conversation.

I explained, "Jack has a lot of emotions that he needs to bring out and discuss. When your first response is defensive, he thinks, perhaps correctly, that you don't care about his feelings because you didn't ask about his side of the story. Of course, you are right that it's not your job to remind him, but he thought it was. If you find out why and help him deal with his feelings, you can repair your relationship. Try saying, 'I didn't think that it was my responsibility to remind you because you are getting older, and I know you want more responsibility. But apparently you expected me to. Can you say more about that?'"

I continued, "There may be a legitimate reason. Perhaps you had reminded him of a similar appointment before, or he's frustrated that he missed the appointment and is taking it out on you." (One of my AP Psych students told me this is called "fundamental attribution error." Any parent has experienced this.) Either way, it's to your benefit and his to avoid this next time. After you've given him a chance to talk, try saying, 'I don't want to remind you next time. What can you do to remember?'

"Give him a moment to think of some ideas - very important! If he's having trouble coming up with anything, maybe say you will ask him about it tomorrow so he can have some time to think. After he talks, you can contribute a few helpful suggestions. Perhaps he needs to enter appointments on his school planner or set reminders in his phone. Instead of just expecting him to take responsibility, help him figure how. That's a life skill, and it builds your relationship."

Two hours later I got an email. The subject heading was "I did something based on our worked!"

Apparently at lunch, the student had dripped pizza sauce on his shirt. As the mother put it "Instead of criticizing something for him for something he already knew he had done wrong, we ended up in an intellectual conversation about how the pizza sauce got there. He postulated that it was simply a victim of gravity, but I suggested that it might have some sentience and actually want to drip onto his shirt. Both of us ended up laughing. It was a win-win."

I was so proud of how she stifled her instinct to be critical and built a bridge instead, engaging her son in the conversation by asking for his opinion. She rocks in this! We can, too...

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