Sophisticate and Progress

I knelt down on the ground in front of my two year old and said slowly, “You do not throw sand at people. Sand hurts in your eyes. Ouch!”

Fast forward ten years. I grabbed my twelve year old by the arm and said, “Heh, you know sand hurts when it gets in your eyes. I’m disappointed that you chose to throw sand at your brother.”

Different words, different communication styles, yet the same message. Some would ask why I’m still having to tell my kids not to throw sand. My response? Kid’s brains won’t fully develop until they’re in their twenties. And until then, they need plenty of reminders and encouragement to do the right thing.

Communicating with kids can be downright painful. A parent requires patience 24 hours a day. From answering the average 300 questions Moms are asked each day to firmly reminding kids how to behave appropriately, calm, effective communication is a constantly evolving challenge.

Here are some tips to help you get through to your kids.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

One key to good communication with your child at every age is to respect them. Respect in communication involves respecting their ideas and thoughts.

The next time your child says, “I’m going to live on the moon when I grow up!” a good response is not, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to have much fun because you can’t grow food on the moon.” Instead, fire up your child’s imagination and talk to them about what they think it would be like. Nothing good comes from squashing your child’s dreams.

Respect also means giving our children space when they need it. If your child isn’t a big talker after school, don’t pepper her with questions. That’s not going to help in building a strong relationship with your child.

Rather, give her time and space to decompress after school and wait for the moments when she is ready to talk. If you wait long enough, they will eventually open up.

Connect Your Right Brain to Their Right Brain

When children are emotional and reactive, they are using their right brain. Logic happens in the left side of their brain and young children – and even some adults – don’t have the ability to jump quickly from their right brain to their left brain.

I am a fan of Dr. Siegel’s book, “The Whole-Brain Child”. Dr. Siegel talks about connecting with your child emotionally via their right brain before bringing in logic and persuasion.

My seven year old last-born comes to me frequently in tears of frustration. I have learned that the fastest way to stop his crying is to hug him and let him know that I can tell he’s angry about something.

As soon as he knows that I understand what he’s feeling, he calms down and we can talk about what’s bothering him and come up with a plan.

On the other hand, if I tell him, “Stop crying, what’s wrong?” he gets angrier. He needs to me know I understand that he’s upset.

When my teenager is angry because he thinks I’m being the “worst parent in the world”, I agree with him. I say, “I know I’m mean and unfair.” I don’t follow up with, “but it’s for your own good.” I let him be angry. I connect with him so he knows that I feel his pain. Admitting to him that I too think I (appear to be) mean and unfair brings his anger down a notch very quickly.

“You’re the Worst Mom Ever!”

We’ve all heard this in one form or another. I think I’ve heard, “I hate you” too, but it’s more common for me to hear that I’m the worst Mom in the world.

I’m ok with that. Usually. There are definitely days when I take it personally and I say to myself, “Yes, I AM the worst Mom ever.” And I feel like going to my room and crying.

It’s hard not to take it personally when your child lashes out in anger. But by responding, “Yes, I love you!” might only be effective if you yell back in an angry tone. You may think I’m joking, but matching your tone of voice with theirs might just be the thing to calm them down.

I know it’s easy to focus on children’s back talk and bad attitudes. But I’ve realized that if they still do what I ask them to do, they learn faster.

My kids hate washing the dishes. There are times when I ask them to do the dishes and they freak out. They literally scream and yell and throw themselves around the house, telling me they’re the only kid they know that has to do chores. I happen to know of other “mean moms” who make their kids do chores, so I think that if this is the worst thing I ask them to do all day, they’re actually doing pretty good.

However, if they do the dishes, I reward them. And the next time, the screaming and yelling and tantrums are less. By now, I have a few kids who don’t mind doing dishes because they get rewarded and others who haven’t quite figured it out yet. But I have faith that eventually they’ll all get it.

“Why?” is the Worst Question Ever

If you have a two year old, you’ll know that “why?” is one of the most annoying questions you will ever hear. All day long, your toddler asks, “Why Mommy, why?” And a good parent will respect their child’s curiosity and respond with a patient answer.

Now, fast forward a few years and you’re the one asking your 12 year old daughter, “Why in the world would you want to dye your hair purple?” This is probably the fastest way to make your daughter feel awful about herself and turn communication off all with one simple question we automatically react with.

What other questions could you ask your child, a question that doesn’t start with “Why?” How about this: “Tell me about purple hair. How do you think purple hair would make you feel?” Or better yet, “Interesting. I knew a girl with purple hair when I was in Junior High but she only used Jell-o to colour her hair and it only lasted two weeks!” Now you’re getting somewhere!

Your daughter may think, “Gee, Mom, you’re as old as a dinosaur” but I’m betting she still thinks you’re a pretty cool dinosaur.

Recipe for Tool #24:

Ingredients:

  • patience,
  • the ability to stop yourself from reacting,
  • the desire to build a better relationship with your child.

Step 1 – From the Beginning

Take a good, honest look at where you and your child are at with communication. Is communicating a one way street? Do you respect what your child says or do you criticize everything they say?

Step 2 – Connect

The next time your child overreacts, connect with their emotion first. If they’re angry, then acknowledge their anger. If they’re crying, allow them to calm down in your arms before you begin to “fix” anything. When your child realizes you care how they feel, they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Step 3 – Remove Your Feelings

Kids will be kids, and we must be the grown-ups. I know how hard it is to be calm and patient while your child can say some pretty nasty things about you.

Remind yourself that someday, their brains will be fully mature and in the meantime, you must do your best to provide a good example for them (remember those mirror neurons?).

I think this is easier when we are taking care of ourselves – giving ourselves a break by getting away for a few hours each week. I call it self-care.

Step 4 – Ask Better Questions

Rather than asking your child why they do they do the things they do, come up with more creative questions that will leave them thinking about what you said rather than feeling bad about themselves. Even if our child appears to not need our approval, they do. Learn to carry the conversation further by asking them to tell you more.

Communicating with kids is a very important key to good parenting. Our words can cut like a knife or soothe like butter on warm toast.

Communication is totally up to us, the parents.

We can choose to set the tone be respecting and connecting with our kids which leads to stronger relationships. Or we can choose to remain reactive to everything they say and do and put our relationship at risk. It’s all up to you.

HB

HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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