How to talk…and how to listen…

1st February, 2013 - Posted by admin - No Comments

Sometimes I recommend a book – I really have to rate the author or book highly, given that the premise of this site is that children don’t come with a manual. But there are some good ones out there – Carlos Gonzales always comes to mind (My Child Won’t Eat and Kiss Me) and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish.

It is How To Talk that has bought me back here today.

I have not blogged for a while. A long while. And I am sorry. But work is busier than ever, and so is the little guy, and home life. We joined a gym, I now work 4 days a week, X is in nursery for 3 days a week (a fourth day with me and fifth with his Daddy)… Time got away from me. Do you all forgive me? Well, I am back now.

And I am finding the 3s a little more tricky than the 2s were. The 2s were not terrible for us, but the 3s, well, they are a little more challenging. A lot of amazing moments and wonderful conversations, but a lot of anger (his and mine), cajoling (from me and to me), frustration (his and mine)… You get the picture.

Today started so well, a walk in the park after a playful dispute about pyjamas (he wasn’t willing to get dressed, I didn’t really care as we were not in a hurry). But after lunch it went a bit downhill – he wanted custard, I had just spent 2 hours making a stove-top then baked custard style rice pudding which even involved tempering egg yolks and a bain marie…. He did not like it, it was not from a pot. He wanted his custard, now, not after dinner, not my food…. Aaargh.

When his Daddy got home I am afraid I stormed out. And then I got to thinking – and remebered my friend and I had been talking on our walk this morning about How to Talk so Kids Will Listen…. And, while I had flicked through when X was younger it did not apply then. It certainly does now.

We do a lot of playful parenting – turning fights about wether he needs a wee before bed into a race to see who can finish peeing (2 separate toilets, I might add) and get into bed first, who can get undressed first, we make jokes when he is getting cross and distract him when we need to. It sometimes works, sometimes it doesn’t. But what it doesn’t do is validate his emotions and experience. Sometimes it is not necessary to do a load of empathy when a game will do – but today, well he didn’t like what I cooked and I took it personally and, basically, invalidated his experience. It is not his fault he prefers custard in a pot. However annoying that is to me.

How to Talk would have advised some thoughtful nodding, empathy – me telling him I am sad that he doesn’t like my food – and moving on. Instead I got mad and played the martyr card. Not pretty.

Sometimes these things do come as second nature. This morning X wanted me to “play dinosaurs” but I had a lot of chores to do. He trailed after me for a while moaning with me saying “in a minute” until I stopped, got to his level and explained “I really want to play but I have to finish the washing and unloading the dishwasher” to which he replied “Can I help you, Mummy?” Gold stars all round.

I also get him to repeat what I have said rather than repeating it myself again and again – “We have to go to bed in 10minutes” – no response – “Xan, Can you tell me what I said?” (To be fair, this seldom works – his response is generally “but I don’t want to!” So another tack is needed.

I do over explain – when he wants something we don’t have, I tend to explain several times that we don’t have it rather than, as the book recommends, being empathic and showing how I can hear and understand how much he wants it.

We don’t punish, and we do not use time out at our house – not sure I have written an article on this yet, but I will do – instead we try and use choices and natural consequences – “If you keep running around the restaurant we will have to go home (as other people may want to eat in peace) and then there won’t be time for ice cream”. The book follows this way of thinking, which is nice, and gives some other ideas for avoiding punishments while not ignoring behaviour that needs addressing.

The book also talks about choices – little people, especially at this age, do umpteen things a day they don’t want to – and we don’t normally notice how good they are being until they stop. Not very fair. So just getting to choose what to wear today, what to eat for lunch, are all good things and can foster a feeling of autonomy.

And then there is praise. I think I praise a lot, and it is fun to look for things to praise – today X shared his crisps at lunch with all his friends, with no push to do so, no-one was asking for them, he just handed them out to each little person at the table. I could not be prouder. Sometimes praise is easy. Sometimes it is harder to find, but even in the small things – “you played so well on your own while I was in the shower” – are worth noting.

One other thing that runs through the book is the importance of naming and being clear – we don’t tell X he is naughty, we try and describe his behaviour to him and explain why it is not acceptable. I think I have been overdoing this, and he is getting confused. When I say crossly “that was not a nice thing to do! Blah blah blah” he hears “not nice” and cries, saying “don’t say I am not nice!” So even though we avoid saying he is bad, he hears it anyway. That is where the explaining, simply, how you feel comes in “I don’t like it when you pull at my clothes, please don’t do it”, for example.

So, if you buy one book this month, How to Talk may be a great investment for you, if only to remind you of what works and what doesn’t.

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