I haven’t written anything for a while. I’ve been busy. Busy reading. As a man, I’m supposed to be unable to multitask. And although that’s probably just a myth, I’m going to stick to it it because it gives me a perfect excuse not to do stuff around the house.
I’ve been reading a really good book again, and I suggest you do the same. It’s called “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The Ronseal levels of understatement in the title belie some important advice which I can honestly say has been a godsend. I’m not good at talking. Or listening. And doing them together requires such a monumental effort of multitasking that I’m ill-equipped for. Until I got this book.
I say some rubbish things to my boys. It’s easy. When I’m tired, or frustrated, or angry or when I’m just lazy. Reading this book, I found myself noticing lazy, rubbish things I say to them and because of this, I’ve really tried to follow the advice given. There’re five things that want to point out that I think are particularly useful.
1. Acknowledge their feelings and help them verbalise
I remember reading a newspaper article about The Osbornes when that programme was popular on MTV. A family psychologist was assessing Sharon and Ozzy’s parenting skills from incidents in the show. There were times when their kids would just shout and swear and get mad at them and Ozzy would sit there and take it all without interrupting or shutting them down. The psychologist went on to say what a wonderful parenting technique that was. At the time, I just thought that it was because Ozzy has the reaction time of a hibernating walrus.
Children get frustrated and angry easily, but also get frustrated and angry when they can’t express exactly what they’re feeling. Often I say, “oh you’re just tired!” or “stop being silly!” or “stop crying, I’ll get you a new one”. By doing this, I negate or ignore their feelings. The book explains that we should help them verbalise the emotions that they are going through; to listen and explain to them that they must be feeling frustrated, or dejected, or scared, or whatever. A lot of the tears and the tantrums come from the difficulty in explaining how they feel. If we help them do this, often the tears go away.
This advice in itself was worth forking out the money for. It’s not easy, especially when I feel frustrated too. But I can honestly say it works wonders more often than not.
2. Describe what you see and possible consequences rather than punishing, ordering or criticising
Man, it takes a steady mind and a lot of self-control to do this but hopefully I’m getting better! It’s amazing how more effective “I see a lot of toys out here!” and “It’s no fun to play with children who don’t share” than “Oi! Come ‘ere you little …!”
3. Offer choices and decide together
Easy enough, right? My kids are still young but this idea of reaching compromises seems excellent. If there is some behaviour which you’re not happy about, rather than saying stop it or do this / that, sit down with your child and explain why you’re unhappy about it, and work together to reach an alternative option. You may find that your child is acting up against their will anyway and would relish this opportunity to be in control of their actions.
It’s important to offer choices that are both happy for you. “You can either play with that nicely or we will put it in the bin!” will only lead to humiliation caused by having your bluff called by a 3 year old upstart – trusr me, I’ve been there!
This is often accused as being a bit “too American”, whatever that means! In my experience, I’ve found our American cousins far greater communicators and far better at explaining what they want and expect, whereas all too often, we Brits sound petulant and stroppy.
4. Explain how naughty behaviour makes you feel, rather than being negative
Again, this requires you to take deep breaths and counts to ten before speaking. Similar to number 2, rather than being critical and negative about their naughty actions, explain how their actions make you feel: “It upsets me when people say things like that”, “It makes me sad when toys are not shared”, “I don’t want to have to worry like that again”. No one is attacked but I have said what I expect and what I disapprove of. Putting the responsibility in the child’s hands is often all you need to do.
In my limited experience, I’ve found that these points work. There are more gems than I’ve talked about and I recommend you get a copy. I also teach kids and the same principles apply in that situation. In fact, with a little tweaking, it could easily be called, “How To Talk So People Will Listen.”
These days, I rarely have any need to get angry. It doesn’t mean that I don’t. It’s a work in progress, parenting.