One of the common frustrations of parenthood is the daily struggle to get our kids to listen and behave in ways that pleases us. Part of the problem lies in the conflict of needs. The adult need is for some semblance of cleanliness, order, courtesy and routine. The children couldn’t care less. As I reflect on my interactions with Dana, it’s no wonder I’m often thought of as the strict, un-cool Mom – the one who was always making her do what she didn’t want to do and obey rules after rules. The child’s attitude is typically ‘I’ll do what I want…’ whereas the parent’s attitude is “You’ll do as I say” so the battle of will ensues.
These are the ‘commands’ which I shove onto Dana on a typical day:
- Wake up, Go pee, Brush your teeth, Get dressed for school, Finish your water
- Go take your nap, Wash your hands, Finish your lunch quickly, Behave yourself, Obey, Obey, Obey!
- Don’t read in the dark, Don’t eat with your fingers, Don’t bite your nails, Don’t test my patience
In the book, ‘How to Talk so Kids will listen & Listen so Kids will Talk” by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, the authors listed some commonly used but non-effective methods used by parents to get their children’s cooperation which I will reproduce partially here for discussion. See if any of these sound familiar to you. I’m guilty of some too.
- Blaming and Accusing
Why did you spill the water again? Why do you always do that? What’s wrong with you? How many times have I told you to sit and drink? The trouble with you is you never listen!
Why are you such an untidy girl! Your handwriting is so ugly!
Look at the way you eat! You’re disgusting!
Can you stop being so lazy? Go and finish your homework now!
Just bite your nails one more time and we’ll cut away your fingers.
If I hear one more whining from you, I’m going to send you to the naughty corner.
If you’re not finished dressing by the time I am ready, we’re leaving without you…
I want you to clean up your room right this minute!
Help me carry these groceries. Hurry up!
You still havn’t finish eating your dinner? Do it now!
What are you waiting for? Move!
- Lecturing and Moralizing
Do you think that was a nice thing to do – to lie to Mommy and Daddy? Would you like it if your friends lied to you? Do you think God is pleased when we lie?
Do not interrupt when adults are talking. That’s very rude! Nobody likes a rude child.
Watch it, you’ll hurt yourself! Careful, you’ll get hit by a car! Don’t climb there! Do you want to fall?Put on your sweater or you’ll catch a cold.
Why can’t you be more like your brother? He always gets his work done ahead of time. Your friend can play the piano so well, why can’t you practise more so you can play like her?
Imagine you’re a child listening to your parent speak in these manners. How would you feel? One thing that struck me is that these ways of speaking are detrimental to our kids’ self-esteem and instead of getting the cooperation we desire, these manners of communication produce a backlash of bad feelings and grudges against adults (and authority). Yes, some kids will comply momentarily but the power struggle will return the next minute. So what solutions are there for parents to adopt so our kids will really listen when we talk?
The authors suggested five ways which we parents can talk to encourage our kids to cooperate without causing any onset or residue of negative feelings.
1. Describe. Describe what you see or describe the problem.
Instead of – ‘You’re so irresponsible. You always turn on the tap then forget about it. Do you want the bathroom to be flooded?’
Try- ‘Son, the water in the bath tub is getting close to the top and will overflow any minute…‘
Instead of – ‘How many times do I have to tell you to turn off the bathroom light after you use it?’
Try – ‘The light’s still on in the bathroom…‘
When grown-ups describe the problem, it gives children a chance to tell themselves what to do. The best part of using descriptive language is that it takes out the finger-pointing and accusation, and helps everyone focus on what needs to be done.
2. Give Information
Instead of – ‘Who drank the milk and left the bottle standing out?’
Try – ‘Kids, milk turns sour when it isn’t refrigerated…’
Intstead of – ‘If I catch you writing on the walls once more, you’re going to get a spanking!’
Try – ‘Walls are not for writing on. Write on paper.’
What’s great about giving information is that, in a sense, you’re giving the child a gift of knowledge he/she can use forever. When children are given information, they can usually figure out for themselves what needs to be done.
3. Say it with a word
Instead of – ‘I‘ve been asking and asking you kids to get into your pyjamas and all you’ve been doing is clowning around. You agreed that before you watch TV, you’d be in pyjamas and I don’t see a sign of anyone doing anything about it…‘
Try – ‘Kids, PYJAMAS!’
Children dislike hearing lectures, sermons and long explanations. For them, the shorter the reminder, the better. Many parents have claimed that this skill saves time and breath. The value of one-word statement lies in the fact that instead of an oppressive command, we give the child an opportunity to exercise his own initiative and intelligence.
4. Talk about your feelings
Instead of – ‘Stop being so attention seeking! You’re a pain in the neck!’
Try – ‘I’ve had a long day at work and am having migraine. Can Mommy read your composition tomorrow when I’m fresher?’
Instead of – ‘Finish that cup of water or I’ll be angry!’
Try – ‘Dana, it will make me really happy if you finish that cup of water before I leave for work.‘ **
**I actually tried that this morning and it works!
Children are entitled to hear their parents’ honest feelings. By describing what we feel, we can be genuine without being hurtful. Most parents are relieved to discover that it can be helpful to share their real feelings with their children.
5. Write a note
Most children (and adults) love receiving notes – both those who can read and those who can’t. Sometimes nothing we say is as effective as the written word.
The note below was written by a working mother who taped it to the family TV set.
‘Before you turn this on – THINK – Have I done my homework?”
As I read this chapter, I felt convicted to apply some of these skills to the realities of my own home (in fact, these 5 ways of communication are applicable to the way we talk to our spouses too). Personally, I realised I must first work harder on really listening to Dana when she speaks to me and I must avoid passing hurtful comments or judgements when I am tired, angry or frustrated. One thing I can definitely do more is to leave more ‘sticky notes’ around the home for the Princess now that she’s enjoying the written word.
All kids are created unique – some of these communication methods will work better than others; we may even need to use our ingenuity to combine some of them. It takes trial and error and it takes time to sharpen each skill. The goal is not to perfect a set of techniques to manipulate our kids’ behaviours to yield to our commands all the time, but rather to put an end to ineffective communication habits that would wound their spirits or damage their self-esteem. If we are conscientious and intentional in our efforts to talk ‘properly’ to our children (and even spouses!), we can foster that atmosphere of love and respect which encourage honest, effective communication in the home. Think win-win!
Linking up with MamawearPapashirt‘s