As parents, we all have endured that tantrum bang in the middle of public space. Most often, we have snapped at children, ignored them, and at times, even yelled, resorting to threats and punishments for bad behavior. Or we have seen another child at the mall screaming and yelling, lying on the floor, throwing a tantrum, and leaving the parents in charge absolutely helpless not knowing how to control their child. Haven’t we all often thought, “Thank God that is not my kid!”
What if there is a better way to manage children – rugrats and teens alike, without seeming like the enemy. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (1996) by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is a clear and practical guide for parents to establish successful and improved communication with their children. They discuss real-life scenarios and offer tactics for coping with such situations, as well as beneficially turning the situation around.
After all, all parents wish for harmonious communication with their children.
Acknowledging A Child’s Feelings
Scenario: A five year old suddenly throws a tantrum in the super market, shrieking, “I want food now! Im hungry!”
While many parents would scold, snap, or even shout back, would such a reaction really get the child to calm down and see reason?
In such a scenario, the child will not listen to the parent because his tantrum is a result of his hunger. A scolding parent will be unable to acknowledge how the child is feeling at that moment. Children behave according to how they feel, and most parents are unable to address this issue when they communicate with the child at that time. Snapping or shouting back ignores how the child actually feels and the child cannot understand why he should listen when he is feeling hungry.
The best way and the only way to pacify a child is to address his feelings and show the child that the parent is listening. The parent could say, “I understand that you’re hungry and it’s been long since breakfast.” Or the parent could step into fantasy and say, “I wish I could wave my wand and get a burger here.”
This will help in changing the child’s mood for that moment, calming him down enough to see reason.
Key Communication Skills For Parents
A child never listens to an angry parent. Instead, the child reciprocates to the parent with anger, yells, and ignores the parent, continuing to do whatever the parent is telling him/her not to do. Anger at a child often gets the better of parents. How should a parent get out of such a situation?
Parents can use a few communication skills that can help create an atmosphere of understanding and respect. Establishing proper communication is vital to changing a child’s difficult behavior.
Scenario: A child is throwing a temper tantrum to stay up beyond bedtime.
Rather than being dismissive, parents can say, “If you don’t sleep on time, you’ll be tired all day tomorrow.” Provide some information to support the sentence like, “If you’re tired, you won’t be able to concentrate.”
Providing explanations gives children the ability to think for themselves and make the decision themselves. Additionally, using this tactic regularly will create a habit, where the child will be able to make rational decisions and listen to parents.
Compromise Is Better Than Punishment
Getting through to a rebellious child can feel like banging one’s head to the wall. When things get out of hand repeatedly, parents resort to punishment.
Punishment, however, leads to further anger, hinders future progress, and makes a child harbour bitter feeling towards parents. This can push the child further away from heeding the parent’s advice and the child will never understand why what they did was wrong.
Scenario: A teen comes home late past curfew time repeatedly during school week.
The classic reaction parents have to this scenario is to ground the child. However, stopping the child from going out will make the child feel angrier and misunderstood, will be unable to understand why staying out late is bad, and will only be able to see that the parents don’t approve of the child going out.
In such a scenario, parents should address the child’s feelings. First, ask why the child comes late. Additionally, parents can express their own concern and care for the child, by telling the child that they were worried about the child’s safety.
The parent can come to a mutual understanding and agreement, like sending the parent a text if they are getting late, with the child and try it out rather than resorting to punishment.
Independence To Discover
Parents often find it difficult to let their children ‘fly out of the nest’. Parents squirm with the idea that their children will eventually make their own choices as adults, will fail, and get back on their feet. It’s watching a child struggle that makes parents melt into making it easy for their children.
Scenario: A child struggles to tie his or her own shoelace.
Many parents simply do everything for their children, making them continually dependent. Helicoptering a child can make the child over-dependent and make it incapable of doing anything on their own, or can even work in the reverse direction, where the child starts feeling frustrated at being unable to do things on their own, leading to stubbornness and hostility.
Parents should encourage a child’s autonomy. Let the child make some decisions on his own. For example, parents can give a child the autonomy of deciding when to complete their homework, as long as it’s within the deadline.
Additionally, parents should encourage their children to seek help from friends and other adults such as teachers, grandparents, etc. Parents should also let their children explore and let them test the waters themselves. They will fail and struggle, but a parent swooping in to help will never teach the child the value of struggling and the child will never understand what it feels to succeed, even if they do.
The Double-Edged Swords Of Praise And Labelling
Praising a child is easy, isn’t it? However, it is much more complicated than we think because sometimes, well-intentioned praise can evoke feelings of anxiety or even denial. Therefore parents need to be careful and praising should be done in a helpful way.
For example, rather than saying, “what a lovely poem,” one can say, “your poem is really moving. How creative of you.”
Additionally, parents should avoid praise that talks of the child’s past weakness. Saying, “ This poem is better than the last one. That one was bad.” This will instead make the child feel demotivated simply because of the negative comments about the child’s earlier writing skills.
Parents should absolutely avoid labelling children as stubborn, lazy, slow, snobbish, or bossy. Labelling makes a child retain that habit and they can take the label into adulthood as well. One should always steer clear of labelling.
Establishing good parent to child communication is all about acknowledging a child’s feelings, providing explanations for the rules they set, giving them the independence to ask questions, and test the waters themselves.
Listening to what the child has to say before making judgments and passing down punishments will help in fostering better communication with the child and respecting the child’s feelings will help the child respect the parents more and see reason.