“Ashley didn’t wait for me after school. She must be angry with me because, after math class, I talked to the guy she likes,” Annaleigh laments.
Annaleigh’s crying. She’s worried about what will happen: Will she lose a friend? Will Ashley’s friends band together and ostracize Annaleigh?
Of course Annaleigh wants this cleared up, but “nice girls” are afraid to be direct. They want to avoid conflict because we raise them to be nice girls (stop raising your daughter to be nice girls). So what does she do?
Typically, she talks to every one of her girlfriends about what (supposedly) happened except Ashley. Before long the story gets more distorted and people assume Ashley behaved like a jerk because Annaleigh had talked about a math question to a boy Ashley was interested in.
The assumptions and miscommunications escalate and are more emotionally fueled. It becomes a convoluted situation that is now difficult to clear up.
As a Parent, What Can You Do?
Right out of the gate, don’t dismiss or downplay the situation and your daughter’s feelings. In her world, this is a big deal. If you dismiss her feelings now, you instantly lose a potential teaching moment ’cause she’s not going to listen to the person who just said her reality wasn’t real or important.
As you age, it’s easy to forget how painful pre-teen and teen angst was. When you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay the mortgage or find a new job, hearing a story from your kid about a friend not waiting for her after school seems trivial. Thoughts of “get over it” come pretty easily.
But your daughter’s feelings of anxiety about her friendships are probably equal to your anxiety about the mortgage. Really.
It helps to remember these types of situations are your opportunity to teach your daughter the skills that will serve her throughout life as she navigates future work relationships, marital relationships, and situations with the auto repair person etc. who didn’t do what they were supposed to or screwed her over.
You’re helping set the stage for your children to have honest and authentic interactions in adulthood.
Covertly Teach her About Assumptions
What I’m saying is that directly telling your child she (or he) is making assumptions tends to lead to a defensive response. Instead, engage in a more general conversation. If you can do this while you’re preparing a meal or engaged in some activity that doesn’t require your full attention, “Annaleigh” doesn’t see it as a 1:1 lecture or (heaven forbid) parental advice giving.
“Hmm..wonder why Ashley didn’t wait for you.”
“I told you, because she’s mad at me about talking to the boy she likes.”
“So she saw you talking with him.”
“No. But somebody must have told her.”
“Could be. I wonder if there’s any other reason Ashley didn’t wait? Was her dad picking her up today?”
“No mom, he works in the city. She’s mad at me about that guy, I just know it.”
“Remember when I thought Sis was mad at me because she didn’t call me back, but it ended up her cell phone had died and she couldn’t find her charger.”
“Yeah. That was crazy.”
“Have you wondered what other reasons Ashley could have for not waiting?”
As Annaleigh starts to wonder about other reasons, her mind becomes more open to the possibility that she might be jumping to conclusions. In the future, she’ll begin to recognize she’s making assumptions before those assumptions get hardened into false-facts.
The only way you can find out if your assumptions are accurate is to get more information – in this case, from Ashley herself. It means Annaleigh has to directly talk to Ashley about her questions and concerns.
Teaching “I” Statements
If Annaleigh starts their conversation with “You didn’t wait for me after school,” Ashley will feel attacked and want to defend herself, which can easily end up in a negative and non-productive confrontation.
But if you teach (and model) Annaleigh the importance of “I” statements, then she
- Starts to identify her own feelings
- Takes responsibility for her own responses to a situation (in this case to Ashley not waiting, which might not have been anything personal at all)
- Learns how to modulate conversations.
Here are some examples of the type of “I” statements you can teach your children.
“Ashley, I waited for you after school and was wondering where you were. Was anything wrong?” OR
“Ashley, I was worried that you were mad at me because you weren’t waiting for me like usual.”
Recognizing assumptions in your thinking and accepting responsibility for your response to situations are HUGE steps towards having honest conversations, which are crucial to self empowerment and healthy relationships throughout life.
Want more straight-to-the-point advice on how to live a purpose-driven life? Visit Cherry online at www.borderlessthinking.com!