How to improve communication

Prettyndsweet12 asks: A few months ago my friend moved, but I still text her and we chat online, but she hasn’t been answering me lately. I have a bad habit of constantly texting her when she doesn’t respond, because I don’t want to lose her, and I get scared because I don’t know if she is ignoring me because she is mad or if something happened. Please help me to get rid of my bad habit and help me to relax when she doesn’t respond. Also I have been having communication problems with my mom; she always yells at me instead of reasoning. What should I do?

Hi prettyndsweet12 –

You’re absolutely right to connect these two questions, prettyndsweet12.  Because both are about styles of communication.

You see, there’s nothing wrong with you texting your friend.  The only thing that’s wrong is that you slip into an anxious habit of texting too many times.  Similarly, I’m sure your mom has good reasons to get upset with you (don’t all parents?!), but she’d have better luck with your behavior if she’d do something other than yell.

The trick, in both cases, is to change how the person deals with their initial urge.

This sounds complex, but it’s really pretty simple.  When I was a puppy, every instinct in me told me to bite.  To bite everyone, and everything, all the time.  And the more excited I got, the more I liked to bite.  So if I met you, you’d probably say “oh what a cute puppy!” and reach down to pet me, but I’d be chomping on your fingers before you ever got to my soft fur.  And when you pulled your hand back, I’d lunge at your ankles with my teeth out like knives.  I was cute enough to get away with it most of the time, but I was really pretty annoying.

The trick Handsome learned was to have lots of stuffed toys around.  So whenever I’d jump in to bite anyone, he’d stop me with a loud “No!” and then grab a toy and stuff it into my mouth.  Once I bit down on it, he’d change his whole tone, pet me, and tell me what a good, smart, wonderful puppy I was.  Eventually (note the word “eventually!”) I learned to, when I wanted to bite someone, run and grab a toy instead.  I’ve done that ever since!  Seriously, if you came to our house now, I’d run up to you, sniff you, give you a little lick on your hand, and then run grab a toy and chomp down on it like it was a candybar, and shake it like crazy!

You see, what Handsome did was to teach me to, when I felt the urge to bite someone in fun, do something smarter instead!  And that’s what you and your mom both need to learn to do.

So can you, when you get frustrated with your friend not responding to your text, put that energy into something else?  Maybe you could jump up and down, or hit a pillow a bunch of times, or perhaps write notes to yourself about your frustration?  Anything is fine, as long as it doesn’t have a bad effect on yourself or others.

Now when it comes to your mom, that’s a bit tougher, because what we’re asking about is your ability to change her behavior!  And of course, no one can ever change someone else’s behavior!  Even when Handsome was stuffing toy animals into my mouth, he wasn’t really changing my behavior; he was just giving me reasons to want to change my own actions, and trying to clarify the best way for me to do that.

But you’re not your mom’s owner, and you’re not about twenty times her size!  So you can’t do quite the things Handsome did!

What you can do, however, is this:  you can invite your mom out to dinner.  You can say to her, “Mom, there are some things I really want to talk about with you, and I want to do it in a special place where we can talk for a while.”  And if she won’t go out to dinner with you, you can plan out a time to talk at home, or to take a walk together.  The important thing is that she sees you taking charge and acting very adult.

(If you do this, there’s a good chance she’ll think you’re talking about something that scares her silly; so when she finds out you’re only trying to change her yelling, she’ll be thrilled!)

Okay, then when you get her alone, talk with her about the yelling, in as understanding and adult a way as you possibly can.  Explain that you understand that she’s your parent, that she needs to teach you things, and that sometimes you misbehave in ways that can be really irritating.  And then say that her yelling is actually getting in the way of what you and she both really want most, which is for her to help you learn and grow.  And that (here we go…) what would serve you best would be for her, when she feels like yelling at you, to do something else, something that would get your attention but not be so scary, or so loud.  Simply put, if she could just trust that, if she simply explains what’s wrong, and talks it out with you, the result will be better.

Now here’s the big deal with this, prettyndsweet12:  You then have to prove yourself right!  If she agrees to this idea, and then you do something that bothers her (say, you don’t turn the TV off when she’d asked you to), and she tries to calmly explain to you why that bothers her, and you don’t change your behavior… you’ve just blown it.  She’ll start yelling again.

In other words, for this to work, YOU have to change more than she does.  But if it does work, it will do wonders for your life.  You won’t only have less yelling in your house; you’ll have a whole new relationship with your mom, one based in mutual respect and appreciation.  It’ll be simply amazing.

Just like how, once I learned to chase those stuffed toys, Handsome was able to relax and enjoy introducing me to all his friends.  And our lives got just amazingly better.

Good Luck with all this.  If you can manage these changes, prettyndsweet12, it’ll change your life forever!



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