Improve Communication with Dr. Donna’s 4 E’s:

Enquire, Engage, Empower and Encourage!
Couple by photograph

So often when we are frustrated with the behavior of our loved ones, we don’t take the time to recognize what is going on beneath the surface.

What if we could get a glimpse into what was really motivating our children; if we could calmly share our thoughts and have a positive impact (even when we are upset with them)?

One of the suggestions I give to parents, both as a family therapist and as an addiction specialist, is to communicate with what I like to call the E’s. 

#1 Enquire:
(Now you have to go a little English for the spelling of this first E)

Take the time to find out what is going on.  Before we get too frustrated and angry, it’s helpful to find out what our children are thinking. Enquiring doesn’t mean asking questions like, “Why on earth did you do that?” but really finding out what our children are thinking.

When we find out what is motivating our children we have a better chance to correct or help boost the cognitive conclusions that are driving their behaviors. Perhaps they were trying to impress someone with poor behavioral choices and self esteem work is needed; Perhaps they lied or covered something up because they were afraid of the consequences and trust, values and resiliency work is needed; Perhaps something has become habitual and structure and tools are needed to overcome the behavior.  

It’s first important to find out what the thoughts and feelings are beneath the behavior so they can be addressed. Be an investigator reporter and enquire. 

#2 Engage:

Once we have a sense of what is going on, its time to engage.

Share your own experience and wisdom, educate, enquire more… a back and forth dialogue. We have so much under-utilized influence as parents. Children really do want to please their parents in the normal progression of development and it’s important to open the channels of communication to facilitate that progression. When we reach out and respond at the appropriate level to the identified issues we can have the greatest influence. By communicating and helping our children to understand consequences and to recognize that they are cared for and that their thoughts matter, positive motivation can be activated and enhanced.  

#3 Empower:

After there has been engagement, recognize your child’s personal strengths, and empower them to move forward based on those strengths. I don’t know of anyone who demonstrated the impact of empowerment as much as The Lubavicher Rebbe. He took young couples, with little experience and sophistication and sent them throughout the world, often with little resources - to reach out and influence generations of people. With the belief that The Rebbe had in them and through their connection to The Rebbe these young couples were able to accomplish often the impossible.  

When we pull from our children’s strengths and empower them (even when they are frustrating us) they can begin to see their positive potential (even when it seems hidden). Sometimes you can involve their wisdom in a situation by asking them what they might do if faced with a particular situation, or by asking their opinion about something. Help expand their perspective taking by asking questions that draw out their highest thinking.  

#4 Encourage:

Foster, cultivate, stimulate, potentiate and have faith. This goes along with empowerment. When we have faith in our children (and ourselves, and G-d) and we communicate that faith, we help alleviate anxiety in our children and help potentiate them. By creating structure, environments and regular dialogue we can help encourage our children to be their best selves and to grow from strength to strength.

If drugs or alcohol are involved this communication often becomes nearly impossible. Please reach out for help if communication is blocked by drugs, alcohol and other addictions. We are here to help you.