I have a few must see television shows. Well, more than a few. But the one that really gets me laughing every week is Modern Family. What’s not to love about that show? Truly, if you have ever seen it you know that this show is destined to become what Friends was to our generation before we got married and had kids and mortgages!
What I’m about to say here might come as a surprise to you, but this month I actually took a little advice from Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy and applied it to my parenting. Now, if you’re a fan of the show and have seen some recent episodes, I promise you it wasn’t this clip that I am referring to (although I’ve certainly been tempted):
Instead, it was the episode where Phil goes to the spa and gets a lesson on how to communicate with his wife without making her so irritated. Here it is:
What the ladies are suggesting to Phil reminds me a lot of a technique psychologists call reflective listening. With reflective listening, the goal is to listen actively to the person talking, and then repeat back to them what they said in a way that shows that you truly heard and understood them. Not only do you want to restate what the speaker is saying so they know you heard them, you also want to show them that you understand how they are feeling. The emotions behind the words. Psychologists use this all the time in therapy, but guess what? It works outside of the therapy office too! Turns out those folks at Modern Family had a pretty good idea of what they were talking about.
One of my kids (I won’t name names!) has a tendency to bring up problems or complaints at the most inopportune times. It makes me batty. As a self-proclaimed problem solver, when I hear a problem, I like to work towards solving it right then. Okay, that’s my issue, but nevertheless, when I hear “MOM, I need new clothes” at 6 a.m. that just frustrates me. I mean, can we actually go shopping for clothes at 6 a.m.? No! At least not in my world. My usual response is “I’m sorry dear, you’re just going to have to find something to wear from the clothes that you have in your closet.” Then an argument ensues. A little back and forth gets underway before we even get to breakfast.
When driving my child to school the other day, I was met with the same clothing complaint. Instead of my usual response, I tried the Phil Dunphy approach. Here’s what happened. I said, “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty frustrated that you don’t have any clothes to wear.” And then my kiddo said, “You’re right, I am.” And then we moved right on to the next subject. No arguing. No crying. No eye rolling. A real honest to goodness parenting miracle! So I tried it again a few times on other problems as they came up, and you know what? It actually worked every time!
It’s pretty simple to use this technique if you want to give it a try. Just listen attentively to what your child is saying and then restate what they said back to them, making sure that they know that you heard what they had to say AND how it made them feel. Sometimes that’s all kids (and grownups) need. To be heard. They don’t always need their problems solved. Thanks Phil Dunphy and Modern Family for the reminder.