Growing up I knew I was in big trouble if I could see my dad’s gold molar. When he was really angry, the grimaced expression exposed the tooth. Fortunately, this was a rare occurrence. But when the gold tooth appeared, it changed the tone in the home. I knew he was serious and my response would determine the outcome of consequences.
When I was a kid, parents set the tone in the home. If kids were unruly, parents could get compliance often with a simple stare. You knew that it signaled a quick change in behavior. Some might say it was a tone of fear. Others would argue it was a tone of respect.
In many homes today, kids set the tone in the family. In other words, they use their emotions or mood to control the family. Parents recognize certain tones of voice and/or facial expression and react in ways that give in to a child’s wants. I call this an inversion of power in the family system.
In my professional work I spend a lot of time coaching couples and families how to build a healthy home. As you can imagine, much of my work is in the area of communication, conflict management, and establishing strong connections.
One of the areas I also address is setting the tone for a healthy home. I find if the tone is set right, the members in the family feel more connected and live more harmoniously.
Here are 5 tones to set if you want a healthy home.
Tone of respect
Respect is such a fundamental tone in a healthy home that I wrote an entire book on the subject: Bringing Respect Back: Communicating Without the Conflict
. If you want a great read on how to bring this back into your personal life, marriage and family relationships I strongly urge you to get this book.
Setting a tone of respect begins with you. Think about what you say and how you say it. The “how you say it” is the tone. If the tone is too harsh the message will be lost in translation.
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When I am angry, I try to slow myself down before I speak. I think to myself, “how can I say this in a tone that will keep the listener’s ears open?”
Tone of patience
Kids can try your patience. So does your spouse! It is not easy to run a household. Especially today. The pace of life is intense. Families are on the run from dawn to dusk. The stress capacity is maxed. Conflict potential is high.
A tone of patience is crucial in a family on the run. Parents, it is up to you to set the tone.
If you are a parent in your household, it is imperative that you work on stress management. Put it at the top of your list. Your capacity for patience under pressure is determined by your ability to manage stress.
Tone of empathy
Stress, and the cluster of emotions attached to it can be overwhelming. Your spouse and/or kids may bring it home with them. It is easy to react to one another with negativity. This usually makes things worse.
Setting a tone of empathy disarms negativity. Empathy is listening to understand, and conveying a heartfelt response of support. “I understand you’ve had a horrible day and don’t need me to pile on. I am sorry things didn’t go well today.”
Notice I didn’t follow-up the sentence with, “But…”
, which is often what we do. Sometimes our “big buts” undermine the empathy we attempt to show. Slow things down. Be with the person in turmoil. Advice can come a few minutes later, after the person settles down and is ready to receive it.
Tone of humility
In the course of a day or week, we are bound to do or say something that hurts someone in the family. Couples argue. Kids fight. It’s part of doing life together. Fairly normal unless it is too excessive.
A tone of humility establishes a healthy home. Humility acknowledges imperfection and owns misbehavior. It is important to establish this tone in your marriage and family.
Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves, “i am an imperfect person, in an imperfect marriage, with imperfect children. When I do something wrong, I will own it and repair it with the person(s) I harm.”
Tone of humor
One of the things I enjoy most in my marriage and family is the tone of humor set in these relationships. My wife and I spend a fair amount of time making each other laugh! I tell you what, it is a great tool to disarm a conflict too!
Humor is a good way to bring people together and strengthen family ties. Usually in every family a comedian exists. This is the family member who knows how to set the tone of humor. In my family growing up, it was my brother Jim. He is the best!
A tone of humor can come from anyone. I think it should start with parents. Let your kids know you have a sense of humor and still like to play and be silly. Dads, I recommend you watch the movie, “Hook”
to find your inner Pan.
Now it’s your turn
What tone is lacking in your home? How can you set this tone in your family this week?
If you need help with some coaching on how to set a positive emotional tone in your family feel free to contact me