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?”
“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”
“You kick that ball in the house one more time and I’ll (insert threat here)”
“Clean your room right this minute.” Or “Do (blank) now!”
Or what about that lecture you gave the other day on manners? How long did you go on?
“Careful, or you’ll get hit by a car.”
“Will you two stop that screaming?! I thought you were hurt…what are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?”
“Why can’t you be more like (insert name)”
“Is this your homework? Well, maybe your teacher can read it, but I can’t.”
“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 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.”
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.