I want to share Two Powerful Words I learned years ago from my friend Brian Carroll that every parent should know and use. But first: one word not to use.
When parents use the word “why” it almost always backfires, resulting in defensiveness, anger and frustration.
- Billy, why are you so disrespectful to me?
- Sally, why can’t you leave your brother alone?
- Jake, why did you skip out on youth group last week?
“Why” makes teens feel interrogated and not trusted and they immediately get defensive. That’s why I suggest replacing “why” with these Two Powerful Words: “Observe” and “Curious”. Here’s how they would work in the above illustrations.
- Billy, I’ve observed you rolling your eyes and heaving a heavy sigh whenever I ask you to do the dishes. I’m curious, what is it about my request that is causing you to react in that way.
- Sally, I’ve observed that when your brother comes into the room you often say unkind things to him until he cries and runs out of the room. I’m curious, what do you think is causing you to treat him that way?
- Jake, Pastor Mark noticed that you’ve been skipping out of youth group after worship on Wednesdays. If that’s true, I’m wondering, what do you think it is that is compelling you to do that?
Think of the significant and meaningful conversations that would inevitably result from each of those three scripts.
Do you see how throwing out “why” and using “observe” and “curious” (or their equivalents) can help? They’re not words of interrogation, they’re words of understanding. They help us learn what makes our teen tick. They communicate to our kids that their feelings, motivations, and perspectives are valid and that you want to know them more than you want to change them. They force us to delay judgment and discipline until after we’ve gained understanding. These words force us to be students of our students. They help build a relational bridge with our kids rather than an impenetrable wall of opposition.
Do I observe some skepticism as you read this? I’m curious to know what would prevent you from trying it!