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Cooperation and Communication

Communication is at the heart of any relationship no matter what age you are. You have to be able to communicate with your peers, coworkers, and even your children.  Which is why it is so important that we learn to communicate with others, especially our children, and especially when they need us.  And yet, there are so many people who communicate poorly.

A week or two ago, I mentioned a book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I’m going back to that book today to talk about engaging your children in cooperation and communication.  Last time we learned that real listening isn’t what we would like it to be. It takes hard work to actively listen before we talk to our children.

I tried this with my boyfriend, just to test the waters, and it’s just as hard with other adults as it is with children, maybe even harder. I’ve had more progress using it with my mother. And I’ve found something, even when it doesn’t work, it works. When my mother was unwilling to talk to me about something, she took comfort in the fact that I was willing to listen.  It allowed her to come back to me when she was ready to talk about what had happened.

You may have already found that the same thing happens with children. While the first chapter of the book focused on helping children, this one focused on helping the parents.

See, the truth is that we all get frustrated at children. Think of all the things you or society expects of your child in terms of behaviors. Write them down, now count them. These things include those that you expect them to do as well as those behaviors that you wish them to avoid. Each one of those things can be a battle depending on where your child is in terms of understanding the world around them and their development. Each one is time spent.

It can be exhausting and can cause us to become negative as we realize how many battles we fight, win or lose.  The more you think about it, the longer you may realize your list becomes, which is frustrating in itself.

Now I want you to think about how you express these things to your children.  Then think about how that would make you feel if you were a child. Write it down if you wish.

Accusing and Blaming

“You tracked mud all through the house on those dirty boots! Why do you do that?”

Name Calling:

“You can’t go out like that in this weather! How dumb can you get?” Or “Let me do this, we know you aren’t coordinated”

Threats:

“You kick that ball in the house one more time and I’ll (insert threat here)”

Commands:

“Clean your room right this minute.”  Or “Do (blank) now!”

Lectures:

Or what about that lecture you gave the other day on manners? How long did you go on?

Warning:

“Careful, or you’ll get hit by a car.”

Martydom Statements:

“Will you two stop that screaming?! I thought you were hurt…what are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?”

Comparisons:

“Why can’t you be more like (insert name)”

Sarcasm:

“Is this your homework? Well, maybe your teacher can read it, but I can’t.”

Prophecy:

“You didn’t study? Do you know what you’re going to be doing when you grow up? Flipping burgers wishing you had.”

I know some of these may seem extreme, but most of us who have or have worked with children have used some variation of these.  And they hurt. I’ve had a couple used on me as well and it always hurts. If we feel so offended seeing it on paper as adults, just imagine how our children feel when we, the people they are supposed to be able to trust with anything, say it to them. It’s damaging and it harms the trust we need to do our job as parents.

So how do we engage cooperation and communication without making our children feel like crap? That’s what we’re here to talk about. The five methods to book lays out are Describe, Give information, Say it with a word, Talk about your feelings, and Write a note.

Let’s take a look at these.

Describe:

Describe the problem and/or what you see. If the tub is getting full tell them just that instead of saying get in here and take a bath, or would you rather us have a flood in the house?  If the dog needs to go out, say that “It looks like Rover is pacing” Instead of “You never take care of that dog, you don’t deserve a pet.”

Give Information:

Explain why an action is wrong instead of accusing or blaming. If someone left the milk out, casually say “You know milk goes bad if you leave it out” (No nasty tones either).  When we give information children can generally put two and two together regarding what needs to be done.  Another example would be to say “Apples belong in the garbage” Instead of “Eww you have an apple on your bed, you live like a pig.”

Say it With a Word:

Instead of lecturing the children (who are less likely to listen the longer you go on) about getting into their pajamas, just say “Kids, Pajamas!” Less is more. And it also helps you from saying something jokingly that may hurt your child’s feelings. Shorter is better and keeps their attention.

Talk About Your Feelings:

Instead of saying “You always interrupt, you’re so rude!” say “It is very frustrating when you don’t allow me to finish what I am saying.” This works because it is easier to cooperate with those who are expressing their feelings constructively instead of attacking you.

Write a Note:

Sometimes a simple note is all it takes. An example from the book was a note on the mirror.  This man’s daughter always left her hairs in the sink. The note said “Help! Hairs in my drain give me a pain. Glug, your stopped up sink.” And the child might find it funny if you can be as witty as that man. Another example could be a sign on mom and dad’s office door saying “Shhh! Daddy is working”. As a reminder for when they should not enter. It won’t fix everything, but it might help.

Think how much nicer some of these approaches are in lieu of the alternatives we talked about earlier? Don’t they make you feel less hurt, less attacked? It might take some practice, but isn’t it worth it to garner more cooperation from your children? Or even those around you? I know that in moments of frustration it’s hard. Goddess, I know that sometimes I still mess it up. It’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment, but that’s where self-control and that brain to mouth filter (that all of us should have) comes into play.

There are two things to remember when trying this out. First, we have to be authentic. We’ve talked several times about how part of being pagan is being honest about who we are. Some might say that this changes that, but I’m inclined to disagree. I can still be me and explore this communication technique, and have it work to my advantage.  Second, just because it doesn’t work the first time, doesn’t mean that it will never work. It takes kids time to adjust, just as it will take you time to learn.  Each method can be applied to any problem. Let me give you an example.

Say that your child has left a wet towel on a blanket. Here is how you could address that using this technique:

There is a wet towel on my blanket (both giving information and describing).

Wet towels belong in the bathroom (giving information).

Freya, put the towel where it belongs (say it with a word).

Freya, it makes me upset when you leave your towel on my blanket (explain your feelings).

Or the note option could be placed where Freya leaves her towel saying “Wet towels on my bed make me see red.”

Now I know children don’t always listen, and sometimes we have to be sterner than this, but we should always try engaging our children in cooperation before we resort to any other tactics. We want our children to be able to communicate effectively and we want them to use their words before they do anything else. Yes, there may be a time and a place for other types of communication, but they are going to learn how to interact with others based on our actions as their role model.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. Goddess knows I struggle with this on a daily basis. But each day of practice makes it a little easier and when Freya is old enough to start better understanding no, I know from my experiences working at camp that it does work better than an attack. The only problem is that engaging in this kind of communication is far easier for me outside of my own family than within because I was taught to do that job by someone who understood all of this before I had any idea that it even existed. Skills aren’t always easy to translate.

Now, if you are interested in some practice on paper, look up the book. You may be able to interlibrary loan it, or your library might have it. Heck you may be able to get it on Amazon for less than five bucks now. However, you might obtain it, the book has some great exercises to help you understand each of these methods as well as the wrong methods.  It also has some great exercises to get you thinking about how you can use communication to engage your child’s cooperation.

Blessed Be.

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Not Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

It’s way late, but here it is. Thanks for sticking with me. I’ll have the usual Monday post out sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.

On top of knowing when to speak, we have to be careful of what we say. I’m sure that you can imagine from the last two posts a myriad of examples of this from how my parents handled the fish situation to the example of Suzy and her lost valuables.  I’m sure you may have even remembered a few from either your own childhood or that of your own child.  All of us have some moment in which our parent’s words or our own could have been more wisely chosen.

The goal here isn’t perfection. That’s not possible, its recognition of common mistakes in conversations. Some apply to children more than others, and some can be applied to all of our interactions. I had someone once tell me that we are all salesmen. The impression that others have of us is based on our words and actions. Successful salesmen have a way with words. They know when to use them and when to shut up. They can see the moment in which to act and the moment in which to step back. While few of us want to sell anything, we can learn communication so as to facilitate better conversation with others and our children.

As I read the questions sections of How to Talk So Kids will Listen, I found myself surprised by some of the things they suggested, but as I read further it all made sense. Let me share some of these with you now.

Empathizing

Should we do it all the time? Of course not, that would be exhausting and quite honestly, there are going to be times that we don’t exactly understand how our children feel.  It’s the negative emotions and hurtful feelings that we most need this ability for. That is where we have to struggle to remain clam, listen, and understand.

Why do you feel that way?

Most of us would think that we should ask that question, but this can make it worse. I’m sure we’ve all had a moment in which we are so mad that we can’t even really figure out why we are mad. It may be the phase of the moon, a rough night with a crying baby, or that something truly terrible has happened.  We may be able to rationalize our feelings, but not all children are going to be able to do this and it’s just going to frustrate them more. Thinking back to my own dealings with children, it’s so very true.  I’ve asked a child why they feel homesick and they are so overwhelmed by the question that sometimes it just makes the waterworks all the worse. If we let them tell the story and vent, they will most likely figure it out. This goes back to listening before you ask or give advice.

Should we agree with and accept our children’s feelings all the time?

First of all, we aren’t always going to be able to agree. They just need to be accepted so that they can calm down and think more clearly. It’s something I wish I, and other adults, were better about in our discussions with each other and children.  They need recognition of what they are feeling not agreement or disagreement.

There are some who might think that accepting all these emotions may lead to other negative behaviors. What we have to remember is that accepting that the emotions exist does not mean that we have to accept unacceptable behaviors based on the emotions. It only means that we recognize how they are feeling and what effect it is having on them.

Is there anything wrong with saying I understand how you feel?

There isn’t per se, the problem is that children aren’t always going to believe you. It’s going to take further examples from your own experiences to let them feel and know that you understand.

What if we are wrong in identifying our child’s feelings?

Honestly, there’s no harm done. They are going to let you know that you are wrong. Maybe you missed something when you were listening. It does happen to even the most attentive person. Or maybe you misunderstood. Our children are still learning about clear communication. Whatever the reason may be, go back, gather more information and try again. Even if you fumble, they’ll still appreciate it. And when we make mistakes and take it in stride we teach our children that it’s okay to fumble occasionally.

The author’s suggestion on hearing “I hate you”

It hurts when our children use those words. We know they don’t mean it, but it can still throw us off our game.  Even hearing it from the campers could hurt, especially if it was a kid I’d had year after year.  Talk to your child about how that feels and then suggest that they tell you in another way so that maybe you can try to help.

When words aren’t enough

Sometimes it takes more than words to be able to let go enough to get to the root of the problem. Each kid is going to have different activities that can help. Some need to write, like I did when I was little. When I was older, it was a punching bag. I’ve met kids who blow off the steam through music, dancing, art, and other activities that they are passionate about. Sometimes a child needs time before we can help them with words.  If you’re looking for a place to start, drawing feelings is a good one, especially since they are young. You might even learn something from their drawings either by your knowledge of them or some research into art therapy.

What to do when you make a mistake

We are all going to slip at some point. All we can do is go to our child and acknowledge our mistakes. Not only does it set a good example for them, but it can lead to deeper meaningful discussion between you and your child.

Deviations from the norm

1 There are children who will reject having their exact words repeated to them. I remember hating this as a child and I’ve flinched at times that I’ve seen that same look of frustration on one of my campers or cousins.

2 Some children prefer not to talk right away and that’s okay.  There’s going to be things that our kids can’t talk to us about. Ever. I know I have things I would never talk to my parents about even though I know I could go to them with it.

3 Be careful how intense or cool your response is. A teenager who is having an intense emotion may become frustrated when you say “Oh You’re Mad.” I know if that would have been me as a teen my response would have been “No s*** Sherlock.” The same is true of overly intense responses. It can make them feel that they have to deal with our emotions on top of their own.

4 I feel like this should be a “duh rule” but I’ve met parents who didn’t get it, so I’ll put it here just to be safe. If you’re child ever calls themselves a name be it fat, dumb, etc., never feed that feeling by calling them that name.  We can accept that pain without dignifying that feeling by using the same words.

I hope my experience as well as those that I have shared from the reading can help you when talking to your child. I know I’m not perfect. I make the same mistakes, but we have to recognize those mistakes and ones that we might make in the future, before we are able correct or prevent them. It is all about knowing our children, when to speak and when to be silent. I’m sure you’re getting tired of hearing this by now, but there are a lot of aspects of raising children that relate to the concepts to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent. They aren’t just concepts for the Craft or your religion, they can be a lifestyle.

Blessed Be.

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To Be Silent….

I forced myself to look back. Right now there’s only so much I can look for in a nonverbal child. We’re still learning what some of her newly forming emotions relate to. For example, we’ve realized that she wants us on her level. Freya gets exceedingly upset when one of us (or both) isn’t on the floor right there with her. So we’ve had to adjust things so that at least one of us can get something done.

As we go along we’re figuring out her nonverbal cues and attempting to adjust our behavior as we see fit. We know there are going to be some things that she just has to learn to deal with. We can’t hold her all the time and there are going to be places she cannot go in the house and things that she cannot touch, but we want to clue into the cues that we can adjust for as well.

So in that vein, I want to look at how we can listen and look for understanding in our children’s feelings.  I’m going to start with the book I’ve been reading and expand from there. If you didn’t read Monday’s Post, it is called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. You can find it on Amazon or maybe at your local library.

How to Help with Feelings

1. Listen with your full attention

It’s discouraging when you walk up to someone and they’re only half listening.  It’s easy to give lip service to listening and then fail to do so in our actions.  When we do acknowledge the feelings of others with our listening ears turned all the way up, our child is going to feel like we care (as well they should). Not to mention that they might just need someone to listen to them. Sometimes they don’t need us to do anything but listen. Not to mention that when we listen in this manner we are following a pagan principal. We are engaging in “To Be Silent”.  We know that now is not the time to speak and we are teaching our child by example when to listen and why.

2. Acknowledge their feelings sincerely.

In my experience with kids it works better to let them get it all out before you even consider giving them any advice. When we listen to the child’s or adult’s full story first, we let them get out their frustration. This is far better than just starting in with questions, blame or advice. Think about this example, Suzy has lost her (insert valuable here) and her mom starts asking her how she lost it or blaming her for leaving it out on her desk. Or she jumps straight into saying what Suzy should have done. That child is going to feel attacked.

I remember a girl I had at camp who had lost her stuffed animal and was blaming another girl. The first counselor she went to accused her of losing it. When I later found her crying, I asked her what was wrong and let her tell the whole story. All I said were very simple statements like “Oh no.” “Really?” “That’s not nice.” Etc. She got to explore her feelings and it made her think of another place to look and eventually the solution to another problem she was having. I also learned about an issue she was having with another camper, which enabled me to be proactive in preventing further problems between the two campers.

3. Give their feelings a name

We have to give them a name for what they are feeling. I remember one time growing up we had gotten some goldfish at a fair. I went off to summer camp and they died while I was gone. Of course, my parents couldn’t just keep them there. They died within the first two days of a two week horse camp. Nor were they about to tell me about it in a letter.

When I got home I was so mad when I found out that they had just flushed them down the toilet. I was hurt. At first my parents said “There’s no reason to be so upset. It’s just a fish we can get you another one.” Of course, this just made me more upset. While I hadn’t had them long they were my first pets and I had cared for them. It hurt that they had just been flushed and without any consideration for my feelings.

Eventually my parents realized their mistake and apologized. We buried a photo of them in the back yard and put a place marker up. Just think of how much easier it could have been if they had recognized my feelings on the subject.  Once we had talked about what I was feeling, I actually felt better and I’ve found that most children react similarly.

And it makes sense. When we start out, emotions are confusing. Heck, they can still be confusing as adults. Children need an extra adjustment, an explanation to understand what they are going through. This was something that did, despite that one incident, occur frequently in my family. My mom was always sick and instead of hiding the details we talked about the feelings that her illness provoked within me. It made me feel better when we talked and worse when all the other adults wanted to hide it from me. It just fed the fear. So think about that the next time your child is sacred, worried, or concerned. You might just ease those feelings while building their trust in you.

4. Give them their wish in a fantasy.

I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t get something I wanted as a child. It was frustrating, but it was a fact of life. Sometimes we didn’t have this snack or couldn’t do that activity. My parents would try to reason with me, but I just got more and more upset.

When the author pointed this out I wondered why and I looked back to my days of child psych and child development in college and I realized something that should have been obvious. Children aren’t as capable of the logic we have as adults. If we look to Piaget’s theories on cognitive development we realize that we don’t begin to see the inklings of logic and reason until a child hits seven and it’s not even fully developed during their teenage years.

We’re expecting a child to understand something their brain hasn’t learned or fully grasped yet.

It doesn’t work.

Sometimes a child just needs you to understand how much they want something. I remember my mother doing something similar to the example in the book when we didn’t have my favorite box of cereal. She told me that she wished she had a magic wand that could make a box appear. It didn’t make things all better, but it did allow me to take my moment before moving on to something that I could have.

Putting it all together

We have to remember that all of these methods require both patience and compassion.  A child is going to see through anything else and read it as manipulative. You need to either have or learn to have true empathy for the feelings of your child despite whatever frustrations and anger you may have towards them in the moment. It’s something that takes time and practice. I’m good at it with elementary aged children, but I have shown to be less patient with younger children in the past. It’s something I’m personally going to have to get over. So you’re not alone in the struggle.

When we talk to our children we have to identify the feeling and acknowledge it. If the bus driver yelled at a child they are most likely embarrassed and we have to acknowledge that by telling them that we would probably feel the same way. And often, if we think back to that point in our lives we can relate. If our children say that the teacher is dumb for canceling a field trip they may be displaying anger and we have to let them know that it’s okay to feel that way, but that there’s nothing we can do about it in that moment.

If you watch those who watch your children (if you’re involved in day care or school) you may notice that some of the educators or caretakers of the younger children are particularly good at this skill. It’s part of what makes the children love them. You’ll also notice that the teachers the majority of them dislike are not so good at it.

Second, one of the biggest potential mistakes you can make with a child is to try to interject advice before they have told you the whole story. When you listen and acknowledge, you’d be surprised how a child can come to their own conclusion or solution. Now granted, if that child’s solution could get them in trouble, at the end of the conversation you can ask a leading question to gently push them back onto a logical track, but let them come to the answer themselves. You’ll be doing them a favor in helping them learn conflict resolution early.

The book has a wealth of knowledge if you want more examples, some comics, and even a few roleplaying exercises you can do with your partner. I plan to eventually use this to work with my own significant other so that we can come together on the same page.

I also think I’m going to take the author’s advice (once Freya can speak) and keep a journal about the feeling discussions we have. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with it amidst everything else, but I think of it as a learning opportunity.

Regardless, think about how you deal with your child’s emotions.  You may find that you have perfect communication, but I’m fairly sure, that if you’re honest in your reflection, you’ll find something, no matter how small, that you can improve on as well. After all, no one’s perfect.

Blessed Be.

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Feelings and Failings

I’m having trouble moving on to the next section of Positive Pushing so I wanted to find something else that I felt was important to learn. What I found was a book called How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It’s not a bad book, but I don’t want everything here to be so serious that it gets boring.

One of the things I’ve watched parents struggle with is helping children deal with their feelings. I found it relatively easy when I was working at camp, but with Freya it’s a whole new ballpark for me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve been out of the game so long, or that I just don’t have a lot of experience with wee ones her age.  I remember thinking back in the day that I would be a wonderful parent due to those days at camp, but sometimes I now find myself questioning that.

Still, it was surprising to find that there are a lot of moms out there that have felt the same way.  Living with children is humbling. It’s true. We never know how much easier we had it taking care of other people’s children or babysitting, until we have one or more of our own.  I always promised myself that I would be better than my parents at handling my child’s feelings (not that they were horrible), but now I find myself struggling to figure out how. This is why I picked up this book.

Just like the author when she started learning some of these hard lessons, I found myself swimming in information. I had always known that how a child felt and how they behaved were interlinked. That was child psych 101, but seeing it in your own child is much harder than identifying it in others.  We know that they tend to behave appropriately when they feel okay and somehow we have to help them accept their negative feelings so that they can continue to feel okay. But like most of parenting, and life, it’s always easier said than done.

When the author said that we reject our children’s feelings I thought to myself “I don’t do that do I?” But after continuing on, I realized that I probably miss verbal cues and at some point when Freya is verbal I’ll mess up as well. She may tell me that she is tired and I’ll tell her that she can’t be because she just took a nap. The problem is that she can still feel that way even if she’s taken a nap.  The biggest problem with telling our child that they, for example, aren’t tired, is that we are telling them to ignore their own perceptions.

I looked back on my actions over the last few days I had spent with Freya and realized I was just as guilty of missing her nonverbal cues as the author was of denying her child’s verbal cues in the past.  So I took a note from her book. It’s still a work in process, but I’m trying to look at things more from Freya’s perspective now.  It may not reduce all the problems we’re likely to have over the next twenty years or more, but it might help.

We have to teach our children to accept their feelings and we have to learn to work with those feelings.  However, once we’ve learned to see their feelings under normal circumstances, we have to learn to do it when we are angry or frustrated, which is even harder.  We are, in general, more likely to snap and deny anyone’s feelings when we get angry, frustrated, or defensive.

For example, take a pen and paper and jot down your initial responses to the following questions (if your child said them):

I don’t like the new baby.

I had a dumb birthday party (and after you went above and beyond)

I’m not wearing this stupid (insert item here). It’s uncomfortable and I don’t like it.

I hate my new coach because he yelled at me for being late.

If you found yourself saying things like: Oh you don’t really hate the baby or you had a wonderful birthday party, x can’t be that bad, or you have no right to be bad at the coach, you’ve denied your child’s feelings in their eyes. Remember they’re going to think it’s worse than it is. We say these things to try to help them realize that, rationally, they probably don’t feel that way deep down, but in the moment, a child might. They don’t have the same distinction.

And if you think about it we’ve all been there even as an adult. We’ve all felt one way about something in a moment. The only difference is that we generally realize that it’s due to a current situation and it isn’t our feeling all the time. In those moments our friends might say the same thing in an attempt to help us and we would, most likely react with a similar defensiveness as we’ve seen children display, at least until we’ve cooled down.

Think about it. How do you feel when someone tells you that you have no need to be so upset over x, y, and z? You get defensive or at least upset. Or when someone tells you that life is just like that. I can think of a few moments in which someone said that at the wrong time and my gut instinct was to blow up at them. I didn’t but I felt betrayed. Worse, yet, when your friend defends the person with whom you are currently at odds with. It hurts to have your feelings rejected or seemingly ignored.

There are several more things our friends may say that can put us in a defensive mood and make us feel like those friends who are trying to help us are ignoring our feelings. I’ve had friends ask me if the problem I have with (insert person) is a personal issue. Whether or not that is true in that instance, that doesn’t make it any less insulting. I know that when I’m upset that last thing I want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology, or the other person’s point of view. I need time to process those feelings into perspective. It makes me defensive or even more upset. And it does the same to our children.

When we give ourselves and others a chance to process, just imagine how much easier it is to come back and realize that those strong feelings aren’t our overarching feelings once we’ve cooled down.  Our children need us to be empathetic and listen.

But how do we do that when we all tend to try these other approaches that don’t work? Well that’s what we’re going to discuss in Wednesday’s Post.

Until then maybe look back at times you may have denied your child’s feelings in an attempt to make them feel better or how others have done that to you. I think you may see a pattern.  You may learn something. Remember reflection on our actions in the past can only help us to improve ourselves in the future.

Blessed Be.