If etiquette is defined by one’s behaviour, then it’s important to go back to the psychological scripts that are written in our minds, right from our initial childhood memories. Because these scripts define one’s thought and feeling patterns, these are manifested in our behaviour. Parenting, thus, becomes a big responsibility. Handling sibling quarrels or checking a child’s academic scores can be tricky at times. And taking the sting out of difficult conversations is a skill and an art a parent must master.
The etiquette quotient works as a moral compass for the parent. Perhaps you need to have a ‘quiet word’ with a child about poor performance or negative behaviour, but what starts out as an informal chat quickly spirals out of control. Harsh words are traded, accusations fly, and the relationship might be seriously damaged. Or, you might find that the child nods in apparent understanding throughout your meeting, but his or her behaviour or performance fails to improve. Make sure that your demeanour is assertive, fair and clear. And, most importantly, how can you ensure that he fully understands the changes or improvements that you expect from him?
Be descriptive, not prescriptive
Successful conversations encourage positive, long-lasting change. They enable you to help a child work on the concerned behaviour. The general rules that apply to most crucial conversations are “be descriptive, not prescriptive”. Avoid negative unconditional statements like ‘you were hopeless’. A better statement would be ‘your performance this time has been a bit disappointing, let us see how you could do better next time’.
First, make sure that you hold the conversation with your child in private. Scolding your child in front of other family members can cause unnecessary emotional charge, which gets us nowhere.
Second, let the child understand the issue from your point of view. Use ‘I’ statements, such as, ‘I heard thathellip;’, ‘I understand thathellip;’, or ‘I noticed thathellip;’ This way, you emphasise your view of the issue, and you avoid making snap judgments or accusations. For example, you could say, ‘I don’t understand what you’ve done here,’ rather than, ‘You’ve done this wrong’.
You’ve noticed some friction between two of your children. At first, you wait to see if they can work it out by themselves. But then the younger one approaches you in private. He or she is upset about a specific issue with his elder sibling’s behaviour. He feels that the attitude is becoming unnecessarily aggressive. In such a case, keep your tone neutral and only state the facts; say ‘what you’ve observed’. It’s important to avoid judgments, bias and hearsay, or you risk making accusations that could prove unfounded.
Be sure to hear each out, but don’t allow the conversation to go off on a tangent. Capture the feelings and thoughts of the child. Being respectfully heard will have an embalming effect on each. Ensure to regulate the climate of the conversation.
(Chaudhary is a city-based image and style consultant)