Over the last couple of days I have learned a few lessons about communication. I have always considered myself a very good communicator. I have a knack for understanding very quickly where someone else is coming from. I have an uncanny ability to ‘read between the lines’ and get to the bottom of a problem by using words. Usually this works for me. Usually…
At the meeting last Friday with my son’s school Psychologist and Principal, we discussed a number of things. One of them was the way the adults treat the children at school, and how this could exacerbate the problems our son faces. Naturally, the school were very supportive and defensive of their teachers in general, and I understand that fully. What was interesting to me was how the communication in the room was getting mixed up. My husband broached the subject of certain teachers yelling at the children and the type of harsh language they use to try and control the children in the playground. The Psych, and Principal immediately went on the back foot saying that their teachers are well trained and have the children’s best interests at heart. Then the Principal quoted how important it is for children to have very strong boundaries and how they feel more anxious without those boundaries. If they are given too many choices, or too much leeway for negotiation, they become more anxious.
That was very interesting to me that she said that. That was not at all what my husband had been trying to tell her. I immediately found myself thinking,
“Oh, she thinks that our son’s problems come from us not being strong enough with him, and allowing him too much freedom and not setting boundaries.”
I’ve noticed on a couple of occasions, little comments suggesting that she thinks we don’t clearly and strongly tell him what is acceptable and what isn’t. So I was immediately angry. Once I was angry, and she was angry because we suggested her teachers weren’t doing the right thing, the potential for honest communication disappeared.
Fortunately, my husband had a clear head on that day, and was able to placate her by saying that we agreed 100% with her statement, but that the difference is in how you speak to our son when setting those boundaries. You can be firm, but without yelling or being abusive about it. Not sure whether she believed us or not 🙂 Interestingly, the Principal and the Psychologist are two of the four people at that school who really do speak to our son in the right way and handle him extremely well!
So I learned, that I need to be careful not to take too much personal prejudice into the communication I am trying to have.
The next lesson I learned was yesterday when I picked up a bunch of new forms I had asked the teacher to fill in so that we can start tracking the effects medication changes has on our son at school.
Icreated a check list sheet to avoid the previous communication banter going backwards and forwards, which tended to lean towards the negative as they would write down all the ‘naughty’ and uncooperative things he did in the day. I would then read it and feel I needed to speak to my son about it or have consequences at home for the behaviours, which we all agreed was not particularly helpful for anyone. We stopped the communication book because of that, and I wasn’t really getting much feedback at all unless something extreme happened during the day.
This is where I learned that communication can really be a double edged sword. I have mourned the loss of the communication book because I felt I needed to know what he was up to at school so that I had some idea of whether he was going well or not. However, when I was given the sheets yesterday, and the teacher or the Aide had written all around the edges and in the gaps rather than just ticking the check boxes, I immediately realised that it wasn’t useful for me to know all this stuff. If they tick the box that says “Aggressive and uncooperative” I pretty much know what sort of stuff he’s been doing. It made me a little mad to read that he had climbed out a window to escape the classroom, and then climbed in a different window to steal something from another classroom. I didn’t actually benefit from knowing that he kicked a teacher multiple times when asked to do something he didn’t want to do!
I could almost detect the annoyance in the writing as I read the little comments and explanations. The school Psych was right. I don’t need to know all those little details. We just need to know if he’s calm and settled, or inattentive and aggressive at different times in the day to get an idea whether medication is helping, or running out too early. Simple.
My third lesson came last night as my husband and I discussed the whole situation (again… it’s getting to be quite a repetitive and almost boring conversation where we both express our different ideas and thoughts on why, or how or what is to be done about it. We never seem to really get anywhere with it, and I’m starting to dread the discussions, but yet they must happen.). My husband made the comment that, “he (our Son) just doesn’t want to do school work.” Interestingly, I heard the following, and this is where I go wrong I think, when communicating with my husband!
“Our son doesn’t want to do school work…” because he is being a naughty brat, and we must therefore make him do the school work at home to let him know that he can’t get away with just doing what he wants. He is making a conscious decision not to work because he’d rather play and that’s what I think of our son!
Now, some of you may agree with me that you would have heard all that too. Luckily, while I processed all that in my mind and let fly with an abusive tirade on my husband about how he needs to understand that our son has a mental illness and does NOT deliberately decide to be a brat, that he is in fact responding to past feelings of failure and frustration when confronted with school work and is protecting himself from those feelings by fighting not to do the work, my husband sat (reasonably 🙂 ) quietly, and listened and then calmly pointed out to me that,
“I didn’t say any of that! I simply said, he doesn’t want to do the work. That is all I meant. I didn’t say why he doesn’t want to do it, or what we should do about it. I just said that he doesn’t want to do it!”
Hmmmm. Yes. That is all he said. I laughed. Why? Because I was suddenly reminded of the Fifty Shades of Grey book when the main character’s mother gave her some advice about men. She said (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t recall the exact wording of the quote!), “When a man says something, don’t read a whole bunch of stuff into it. Take them at their word. Men are simple. They usually say only what they mean and don’t really have a great deal of extra information hiding behind their words for a woman to interpret.” And there was my third lesson! Wow, what a good one though. Once I realised what I was doing with my husbands words, I was able to calm down and stop myself from snapping back at him with all the reasons why he was wrong. Well…. almost able to stop myself. I am aware of it now, but it will take me a while to un-train myself from years of practice at interpreting and finding hidden meanings, and twisting his words into what I think he really meant!
I wonder if I’ll be less mentally tired now that I have realised I don’t need to do that?! Or, shock horror, perhaps I can pause and actually ask him, “did you mean this? Or was it as simple as you said it?”
Communication is the key, but oh my goodness, it has to be effective communication or you might as well not bother!