When my children were small and things seemed to be going downhill at our house – unhappy, squabbling, unproductive kids and adults – I spent some time paying careful attention to my words and actions. What kind of messages was I sending – spoken and unspoken?
How many of my messages were in the category of “love you; you’re great” (patting, hugging, etc.). How many were in the category of teaching skills, setting and enforcing rules, praising accomplishments, etc.? I usually found the two lists to be quite out-of-balance at those times when kids and adults were generally out of sorts and unhappy.
They were out of balance sometimes in one direction. Sometimes in the other. It didn’t matter in which direction they were out of balance. The result was the same – bad behavior, bad feelings. My plan after seeing my list was to beef up the side that had too few messages.
If I was sending a lot of messages about what we all were doing – good and not-so-good – I tried to beef up the messages that were not about doing things but just about loving and enjoying each other. If I was sending a lot of messages that were about how much I loved my family, but not many about expecting good behavior and each one learning how to do their part in the family, then I tried to beef up my messages about how important is was for each of us to act responsibly and become capable of doing things well.