Understanding the backstory - A tool in communication

“How well you listen impacts your relationship positively or negatively.”- Anonymous

Relationships are built on trust, even in a parent and child relationship. In any conflicting situation, as we  parents are the adults, we could take a pause, step back, try to understand what the disagreement is about,  by seeing what is happening in  each other’s lives - ours and the child’s.

Let’s take a couple of examples. 

Anita wanted her 6 year old son Rahul to take a bath before bedtime. He refused, started to wail and just did not budge. A tired and furious Anita, slapped and dragged Rahul for his bath. At bedtime both were unhappy.

If Anita had taken a pause, and thought of the backstory or sequence of events that had happened during the day she would have responded differently. She was stressed as the appraisal at her workplace was due the next day. Rahul also had an equally tough time at school, having fought with his best friend. Also, he was missing his dad, who was travelling, who usually gave him his evening bath.

Understanding the backstory is a simple and effective tool in communication. It is becoming aware and mapping all the events which has happened earlier, during the course of the day, or the week, or even way back. By doing so, we get a larger and in-depth picture of what may be happening in a person’s life which may have led  to the current explosive situation.

When Anita mapped all the events, she understood that Rahul was not being adamant, nor was he trying to make her life difficult. Rahul was feeling upset and knew no other way to express it. He needed someone to listen to him and understand his frustration. It would have helped Anita too to have shared her own feelings of apprehension and tiredness to a loved one. Self care would have helped her. 

By understanding the backstory and acknowledging the emotions of her child and herself,  led Anita to respond empathetically, “Oh Rahul, I can see you are missing daddy very much and you wish your friend would talk to you soon, don’t you?”. Rahul hugged his mother and said, “Yes Amma…”.

We often write off teenagers as uncommunicative and reluctant to share. A teenager who is communicating in a way that does not appeal to us may be doing so because of so many reasons.

Alia, snapped at her dad, “I don’t want to talk about it”, and banged the door of her room as she went in. Her father tried to understand what may be going on in Alia’s life. She may be stressed because of an upcoming exam or worried about how she is going to complete the 3 important projects all due on the same day. She may be having some difficulties with her peer group or just plain tired because she has not had enough sleep. 

When we know what is happening in our child's life and are able to connect the dots to their responses or behaviour, we are able to be more empathetic and considerate of their actions.

Understanding the backstory could turn a conflicting moment to a moment of bonding.

Author : Sunitha.R, is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.