A Tale of a Misunderstanding…

A Tale of a Misunderstanding…

I recently took a continuing education on self-regulation for children and was surprised at how it improved my communication with my son. I hadn’t realized that his reactions to things could be due to his perception and interpretation of the situation. I’ll give you an example so that you can see how powerful this can be, not just in communications with children, but with anyone…a partner, co-worker, friend, family member, etc.

So, after taking this class, I was so excited to give it a try. It talked about how we often don’t hear the message that someone is trying to send us, or misinterpret actions. Another way to think about this is that often a perception that someone’s reaction is crazy or out of line/control is because we don’t know how what is going on is impacting them. Most reactions or behaviors are completely understandable once you hear how the other person viewed it and how it affected them.

I’m going to break this down for you so that you have a clear example. It was a Tuesday evening. I had picked my boys up from school, they did their homework, then had Hebrew, then we had to quickly get dinner in before hockey practice. Stressful, right?! So, I’m getting their dinner together, I have a picky eater, so I making him his usual cheese tortellini, with butter and parmesan cheese. He has told me before that he likes to put the parmesan cheese on his pasta but I was in a rush, so I did it for him. He comes to the table, looks down at his food, huffs and gets up and goes to the refrigerator. I’m still in the kitchen, so I ask him what he needs. He tells me the parmesan cheese and I hand it too him. He eats but I can tell he is frustrated. Unfortunately, we have to eat and get out the door. I feel bad that I can’t address it in the moment but know we will have time to talk during my other son’s hockey practice. It ends up being a good move, it gave him time to calm down. He was overwhelmed and frustrated in that moment and needed time to come back down to a place where he could express himself.

Once I dropped off my hockey player, I was able to ask my younger son if we could talk about what happened at dinner and explained that I wanted to understand it so that if there was something I was doing that frustrated him that I could change that behavior and do better. I did two things there: I asked his permission to talk about it and I let him know that it wasn’t my intention to upset him and wanted to understand his reaction. This made him more receptive to the talk because he could hear that

I wanted to understand so that I could make changes and wasn’t accusing him of “acting crazy”.
He told me that he had already told me before that he likes to put the parmesan cheese on his pasta himself. I explained that I know that but was in a hurry. I asked him to explain why it is important that he put the parmesan cheese on his pasta. It could have been: I’m old enough to do it myself, you put too much/too little on, I just like to do it myself- these were all thoughts I had. But it was none of those. He explained that if I put the parmesan cheese on and it sits then in sinks into the pasta and butter and then its not “fluffy”, and he likes it “fluffy”- think pillows of parmesan cheese sitting on top of the pasta- he likes a lot. I never would have figured this out without getting curious about his reactions (the huffing, getting up and getting more parmesan cheese, etc.).

I could take this two different ways and it would get me two different results. The first way is to say, “well, I was in a rush and have to do it myself sometimes and you need to get over it”. This tells him I’m not listening to him or his message hasn’t been heard, that his feelings aren’t important, and that I don’t care and will do things my way because I’m the adult and I’m in charge. I didn’t take this route. Instead, I let him reset so he could be open, I asked him if we could talk instead of telling him we needed to talk, I asked him why it was important to him (because why I did it doesn’t matter and invalidates his feelings), and then I said I was sorry and that I could understand and would do my best to do better. I asked him if he could be patient with me if I make a mistake and let me know that I’ve made the mistake so that I can keep trying and let him know that I am always trying to do my best just like I know he is always trying to do his best.

This same misunderstanding could happen with anyone, and its important to realize that often when we think that someone has done something to wrong us or isn’t listening, that it isn’t because they don’t want to hear our words but that there was just a miss in the message received.

If you are finding yourself having trouble in your relationships, I’d like to help you learn to work through these misses so that you can have happier, healthier relationships with others.

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