I apply these rules to friends and family of school age and up:
1. I will listen to someone else’s point of view until l really understand it. This doesn't mean I will agree with what is said. It means I will take the time to really “get it” before I respond. Showing that you understand what someone actually intends before you respond is much more likely to be productive.
2. I will respect what actually interests or is important to the other person, rather than expecting others to share my views of what is important. (In the case of children, this is means acknowledging what they think is legitimate even if you have to ask or tell them to do something else.)
3. I will listen to expressions of feelings and communicate understanding if someone’s upset, rather than immediately trying to fix them. How often do we jump in and try to make things better, rather than acknowledging we care? Or worse, sometimes do we invalidate feelings: “Oh, you shouldn’t take that so seriously.”
4. I will not offer solutions unless asked for them. I have a mantra: “No one died and made me boss.” For teens and adult children: they won’t listen to your solution anyway, and they’ll think you’re a pain or do the opposite of what you suggested. For husbands and partners: ditto. (This is something that takes a LOT of self-control.)
5. I will decide how to respond to behavior that upsets me when I'm calm. Responding impulsively out of anger can make things worse, or be unfair. I can’t control a fight, but I can control my timing. (This is what meditation has helped me achieve.)
6. I will recognize problem situations that happen repeatedly. I can then take a calm time to talk with my child/partner/friend and come up with a strategy for improving the situation together. As a wise mentor once told me, “It’s not one thing after another, it’s the same thing over and over until we get it.”
7. I will put away my cell phone and pay attention to those I love and care about when we’re eating or having time for each other. I understand and will tolerate symptoms of electronic withdrawal.
8. I will be clear and specific in my expectations and requests. Complaining “You’re not being thoughtful/helpful” necessitates mind reading. Saying, “I wish you would ask me if I need something when you stop by the store” is a lot more meaningful.
9. I will give my child/partner a chance to take risks and experience consequences (within reason). It’s the only way they can grow.
10. I will take responsibility for my own choices and actions, and not blame someone else for them. For example, if I drop what I’m doing to fill a request whenever someone asks, I have only myself to blame.
11. This one is critical: I will take care of myself. Cars don’t run on empty, and neither do you. You need to feel OK yourself to be calm and this aware. This means knowing what you need (sleep, self-care, R&R) and taking the responsibility for getting it—you have to make the time.
Think of these as goals rather than something you can just do immediately, and give yourself time and understanding—just as you're going to give time and understanding to those you love.