Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk: Engaging Cooperation

This chapter of the book is where I started to get kind of excited. And don’t even get me started on how excited I got in the next chapter (Alternatives to Punishment. Seriously, I feel like I need to warn you about the amazingness you are about to experience. You’ve been warned. Wait for it...)

How familiar does this stuff sound?
  • Blaming/Accusing: You colored on the walls again!? Mommy asked you not to. How many times do we have to tell you not to color on the walls?!
  • Threats: Alright then, I'm leaving without you. Have fun living in the grocery store. I hope you make lots of new friends with the produce and bakery employees.
  • Lecturing/Moralizing: We don’t grab! That is not nice. How do you think that makes your sister feel? What if I grabbed your toys out of your hand?  You wouldn’t like that, would you? You wouldn’t! Because it is mean! So you shouldn’t grab things out of your sister’s hand either! Do you understand me? {um, I do this. All. The. Time.}
  • Warnings: Watch out! You don’t want to get big owies, do you? Hold Mommy’s hand or you’ll get squooshed by a car. {Again, All. The. Time.}
  • Martyrdom Statements: Please stop screaming! I’m going to lose my hearing if you don’t use your INSIDE VOICEEEES EHMAHGAWD. Or: You’re killing me, smalls. (Except that statement makes me laugh, so I grant it an exemption from the Don’ts)
  • Sarcasm: Awesome, somebody pooped on the floor. (It was me) (not really, I just thought what this post needs is more poop)
  • Comparisons: Look at how quiet your sister is being; why can’t you be quiet like your sister?
  • Prophecy: I told you that you’d get big owies! Or: If you keep doing that, no one will ever want to be your friend!
The author then asks you how it would make you feel to be talked to like that (in a sort of annoying workbook-style format, but whatever, I forgive you for being overly pedantic, HTTSKWL&LSKWT. Also, I forgive you for having such a long title). I can tell you how it makes me feel to hear that stuff, because Cork says those exact things to me ALL THE TIME. So what if I like screaming, and pooping on the floors, and drawing on walls with markers? nbd. Seriously though, those kind of statements usually make you feel bad, defensive, and frustrated. And hearing statements like that doesn’t really foster a sense of cooperation, am I right?

Here are some ways to avoid the bad feelings, frustration, and defensiveness and skip right to the part where your kid will cooperate. I like how this supports the stuff I liked from Parenting with Love and Logic. You are never making a command that you cannot enforce. So no embarrassing, public power struggles.(except this book does a way better job)

  1. Describe the problem or situation: “I see Legos on the floor.” Or: “I see markers being used on the walls” or: “The problem is, it is almost dinner time.” Starting the sentence with “the problem is”  encourages your kids to “put their thinking cap on” and come up with a solution, rather than put defenses up against accusations and punishments.
    1. You are allowed and encouraged to do this authentically. Read: It is OK to use your angry mommy voice, if that is how you feel.
    2. You are discouraged from using this technique for simple requests, but instead save it for things you genuinely need help with. If you say, “I see an open door.” You’ll very likely get a “soooo? Shut it.” in reply.
    3. Also, try to start these statements with “I…” it sounds less accusatory (especially if you are starting your sentence with, “the problem is…” Obviously, your child is not a problem to be solved!!)  E.g., “I see milk on the counter” versus “You left milk on the counter.” Or “the problem is, I have to get home to cook dinner” versus “The problem is, you won’t get in the car.”
  2. Give information: “Stepping on Legos hurts everyone’s feet!” or “leaving food on the floor attracts ants” or “milk left out of the fridge will turn sour.”
    1. Make the information age-appropriate (don't tell a high school kid what happens to milk out a fridge or they'll roll their eyes at you) so you don't sound like you are being sarcastic or doubt your kids intelligence.
  3. Say it with a word: “Legos” or “milk” 
    1. Kids hate lectures. Also, grownups hate lectures. The shorter the better. Always. 
    2. Avoid using the child’s name as the single word. Otherwise they’ll stop listening/responding to it.
  4. Talk about your feelings: “I get really angry when I hurt my feet on Legos.” or “Daddy gets mad when the milk goes bad and he doesn’t have anything to put on his Cheerios.”This was totally new to me. 
    1. I think sometimes I actually try (super unsuccessfully) to hide my feelings from my girls. {because, I don’t know? Parents are never supposed to have emotions?} Instead, I tried this strategy this weekend and it was amazing. Hannah and I were picking up crafting stuff (sequence and other bad ideas for toddlers). Each time we finished picking them all up (piece by freaking piece) she’d smile and dump them out again. At first I was like, OK, fine motor skills, whatever. The next time I said “this time, we’ll leave the sparklies in the box.” (hint: “we” didn’t.) Then I said, “I AM REALLY ANGRY! I HATE PICKING THESE SPARKLIES UP!” And Hannah said, “No, mommy! Don’t be angry!”  So I told her, I won’t be angry anymore if the sparklies stayed in the box this time. And they did.
  5.  Write a note: So my kids can’t read. But if your kids can, this is a good way to deliver information in a way that avoids any tone of voice issue and gives kids time to think before responding. You can put a sign up, leave a note on the bed. Send them a text message? I don't know, why not. The authors also say you can do this for pre-literate kiddos. E.g., put up a sign that says, “The kitchen is closed/open” you can color code and read to the kids to let them know when they can/can’t come in.

Non-Kid Applications
This stuff can totally be used with ANYONE. Pretend your husband wants to buy a motorcycle and you think that is a super bad idea? (Cork doesn’t want one, thank goodness. So this is totes hypothetical.)

Maybe your go-to response would be to be sarcasm: “That sounds like a super helpful idea. It’d be great for taking the kids to gymnastics or picking up groceries for the family.” Or make threats: “Sure. Buy a motorcycle and I will match you dollar for dollar with new shoes.” Or lecture him on safety. Or make comparisons and tell him how your brother-in-law would never ask for something so stupid. And guess what? Your husband will feel hurt, defensive, angry, and you’ll just put him in an arguing mood.

Instead, you could state the problem, “the problem is, we don’t have a ton of discretionary money in our family budget.“ Also, you could give information: perhaps about the safety of motorcycles. Or their cost compared to your family's savings. Or state your feelings, “I get really stressed out imagining you getting in a motorcycle accident or thinking about how much the bike will cost.” All of these statements invite a thoughtful exchange of information, instead of just a fight.

The fact that all these tools are useful for any relationship (not just parent-child) really underscores that you aren't just "engaging cooperation"; you are modeling important skills your kid (or husband/boyfriend/whoever) can use their whole life. Win/win!

Read Part1 and Part 3 and Part 4

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