My son is learning to drive. Talk about anxiety! His is one of those situations where I really have to be aware of my verbal and nonverbal communication. If I’m not aware of my words and actions, the driving lesson is a disaster. For example, if I’m worried he’s going to hit the curb, I’ll make a noise, which freaks him out. He gets flustered, slows down (or speeds up) and loses his focus (all the while telling me how much I mess him up). No one wins: he feels discouraged, and I feel guilty.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you already know that I highly value listening. There are good reasons for this — without it, nothing can be accomplished. This is true in all relationships: as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend, as a lover, as an employee … the list goes on. In this case, since I’m the parent, it’s my responsibility to practice what I call “showing up” as best that I can (I’m still human, of course, which is why I say practice.)
So let’s get to it. Here are my top 5 ways to show up:
- Set an intention for the interaction, before the interaction.
It doesn’t have to be long or fancy. Often, I will simply say to myself ” be fully present” or ” speak in a calm, even tone.” (I’ve been repeating the latter over and over lately before I go out driving with my son.)
- Keep the emotional tone down.
As parents, this is actually our job, though we may not know it. Our job is to remain “cool as cucumbers” in the midst of our kids’ storms. Tough, I know, but vital for better outcomes. I take a lot of deep breaths as my son drives.
- Refrain from giving advice.
I’m not sure anyone — kids or adults — wants to be told what to do. If you’re feeling the urge, ask first: “Do you want to know what I think?” “I have some experience. Do you want to hear it?”
- Keep things positive. It’s so easy to focus on what someone isn’t doing right (ourselves included). Let’s try noticing what your child, partner, parent, or boss is doing well. And then tell them. When we shift our attention to what is working, we start to notice it more often. For example, before we get out of the car, I have my son first tell me what he thought he did well. Only then can he say what he wants to practice next time.
- Put phones, laptops, and tablets away. I know, I know, I’m a broken record on this one. But I’ll keep saying it, because it’s impossible to feel heard when someone’s attention is divided. If you’re with your partner/friend/colleague, I invite you to put your technology completely away (instead of on the table) and/or turned off. That discomfort you may be feeling is likely anxiety, even more reason to think about doing it.
How do you show up in life? Remember! These are skills, and skills take practice. Repetition and consistency will help us get better. As always, we’re looking for progress, not perfection.
If you’re a parent and interested in improving your specific situation, please contact me. There are simple strategies we can employ to help improve your relationships.