Communication is much more than the words we speak. Think about what else you might be communicating to your child through your actions, inactions, or body language. Communication has to be clear and consistent. Once you decide what the rules are, stick to them. One parent cannot waltz in with junk food. If Dad makes a sour face every time asparagus is put on the table, the child will learn that asparagus tastes bad before he or she has even tried it—though this doesn’t mean that you have to be overly rigid. There’s nothing wrong with one of the rules being “let’s not be fanatics about this,” but the clearer you are about things, the better it will be for everyone. Perhaps the clearest message of all is that no should always and consistently mean no, and not, “Please take no as an invitation to start a long process of negotiation where you do your best to manipulate me, and I eventually cave in like I always do.”
In other words, no mixed messages.
Communication is an art and the basis of every successful, harmonious relationship. Learning how to express your desires, expectations, opinions, and demands in a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental fashion is crucial. There’s an amazing book on the subject, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It’s a great read, and we highly recommend picking up a copy. The book offers simple, practical tools for expressing yourself in a way that allows other people to hear and understand you. Equally important, it gives you tools to better understand your child’s method of communication and what it is he or she is really asking for and needing from you.
Whether you get a copy of the book or not, understand that communication doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. Knowing how to hear and be heard is a skill, and once you become conscious of it and tune in to your patterns and methods of expressing yourself, as well as your child’s patterns, you can start to hone these skills. Your children will be grateful, because even if they’re not aware of it, they truly want a deeper, more meaningful connection with you. They just don’t know how to go about getting it. Your improved communication skills can help give them the opportunity to have that connection. The result: less stress, greater feelings of love and safety, more energy, more inspiration, a renewed desire to please you, and an increased desire to take care of themselves.
In Fit Club, we are committed to creating a safe environment where all children feel comfortable to exercise, so we have ground rules, like “no name-calling” and “always be encouraging to one another.” Yet, not every child comes to us able to follow these rules. Many have been bullied themselves and will yell at their teammates, using derogatory statements about their weight. Our facilitators will pull them aside and redirect them, and soon they are kind, encouraging, and acting like good sports. They learn by watching how our staff treats the group, as well as how they keep kids in check when they are not acting appropriately. This also needs to happen in families. Siblings and parents should not be permitted to name call or bully. Words can cause deep and painful wounds. They should be used to lift each other up, not pull each other down.
-From Dr. Riba’s book Fit Kids Revolution—Get your copy here!