How many times have we as parents felt nagged and harassed by our children when they’re determined to fulfil their immediate demands?
At times when mine were young, and periodically at me - like battering rams at the castle gate - all I wanted to do was yell and scream, “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” or cave in and give them what they wanted just to get some emotional and mental peace - it took an enormous amount of effort not to yell or concede defeat.
I had to dig deep and pull out the strength to go into battle without inciting a war, to remember that I was the adult. It took a number of epic failures in my communication techniques as a mother before I stumbled on a simple one that really does work.
At the time I wasn’t a public speaking coach - that vocation came later when I decided that I wasn’t happy with the way I communicated and decided to get training - I was a stay-at-home and somewhat frazzled new mum without a support network, and my pride wouldn’t allow my friends to see that I wasn’t the perfect parent! Pride really can be an assassin of personal development.
Through my communications training, I discovered that my ability to understand children at a deeper level meant that I connected with them well, where they trusted me as they began their own communications tuition. This prompted me to become a public speaking coach working with kids ranging in age, so far, from five to fifteen, where I have encouraged the use of my technique.
What I have discovered is that the earlier the child is shown how to communicate more effectively at home, the more likely they are to be willing to adapt. The knock-on effect is that their parents tend to be ready to make the change too. When they get to about twelve years old, they are less prepared to change, mainly because the onset of hormonal transformation is winging its way through their bodies.
Recently, I was running a class for my ‘Little Speakers Program’ Prep to Grade 1 students where we introduced how they could communicate with their parents or carers more successfully. Don’t laugh! I promise that the children understood what I was talking about!
By getting the children to understand a little more of how the way in which they ask for things can be a little ‘annoying’ to parents - we’re only human - then perhaps they are able to adjust the way they ask for things to a less whiny and more well-mannered way. I not only explained and demonstrated how the tone of our voice can be misunderstood, but it can also get us into trouble. I discussed how we are not always aware of the responses of the other person once we have spoken, and we react out of conditioning and instinct, but we can change that.
So how do I change a child’s way of communicating at home? The answer is through role play. Most children love playing games, and getting them to appreciate how their communication and behaviour can affect the outcome of their demand not in their favour, they need to ‘feel’ what we feel.
We did a role play where I played the part of the child, and each child took on the role of their Mum. At first, they found it funny, however as the badgering and harassing increased and I continued with, “Mum, mum, mum, mum, muuuuum, I want food!” “Muuuum, I want the fidget spinner!” “Muuuuummmmm...” while gently, but repeatedly tugging at their sleeve, all of the kids that took part in the exercise yelled at me to stop, and when asked they reported that they didn’t like the nagging and the demanding that I was doing - apparently, it’s really annoying!
I then demonstrated another way of speaking, where they could get their parent or carers attention without feeling like they ‘had to’ express themselves in the way that they sometimes do. After I had been, as they reported, ‘annoying,’ I changed tack and asked, “Mum, can I ask you a question?” in a calm voice. At this stage, grammar doesn’t come into it, we’re just looking to change behaviours. The children immediately responded calmly and with a maturity that belied their age.
I then asked the children which of the two demonstrated approaches they thought their parents would prefer. Each child stated that they favoured my polite way of asking for something. The outcome of the exercise reinforced my feeling that perhaps kids behave in the way they do because we parents unwittingly encourage it.
Our kids are much smarter than they’re given credit for, and very young children are all about emotional connection.
In discovering that I was able to get my own kids to connect with my reaction to their behaviour emotionally, they became more willing to effect change. However, for them to modify their behaviour, I had to adapt my own. My theory worked!
What are my tips? When I had my ah ha moment four things happened:
- I actively stopped answering them in dribs and drabs.
- I actively became aware of how I reacted to them, adapting my own behaviour to take more time to ensure they received the whole message rather than feeling the need to bug me while I was occupied with other things.
- I actively stopped what I was doing and answered them in full. For example, when they asked for food, and it was close to dinnertime, I would say something like, “Sure, it would make me so happy if you could wait for 5 minutes, and I promise dinner will be ready. Could you do that for me?” or if they were asking for me to buy them a new toy. “I tell you what, how about we go shopping at the end of the week and see if we can find it then, because right now, I have to buy bread/milk/dinner. Does that sound good to you?”
- I would actively negotiate if number 3 above came up by appealing to their better nature, and because most kids want to do something sweet for us, they are often happy to comply.
Why did 1-4 work? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure, kids are funny little things, though if I tap into the little girl within, I feel they just need us to be more present with them as we answer their demand(s). Preferably not with an outright ‘no’, because an immediate “no, not now” is in their minds dismissive of their request. By negotiating, and appealing to their sweeter side, they would often feel ‘seen and heard’, in short, validated.
Almost all the class admitted that they had at some point not only harassed their parents for whatever it was they wanted, but they had also thrown a temper tantrum if they didn’t receive what they were demanding at the time.
The pestering and sulky behaviour is of course not unusual. However, I do believe that it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because something has ‘always been’, doesn’t mean that it ‘has to be’ the norm. Sometimes, the norm is meant to change to make way for a better way of doing things. Not only can our children change the way they talk to us, we too can change the way we communicate with them.
I speak from experience, not just with my own kids, but in past classes that I have run. Those children who are willing to attempt to modify the way they talk to their parents, seem to learn simple negotiation techniques that are within their understanding. These children found that there was less conflict at home because their parents responded well to them. The Mums, in particular, have told me that they like the calmer atmosphere that the change brought to their home life. Though, some are now telling me that their children are becoming master negotiators, which I find wonderfully amusing.
Modifying the way we communicate at home does take work, however the long-term rewards are worth it. My son is turning fifteen, and my daughter is nine, and though sometimes they both have their moments, they are happy, healthy, and confident communicators, who are prepared to negotiate for what they want, rather than try to bully us into submission – most of the time.
I do strongly feel that if we can make this change now with our children, we offer them the gift of becoming confident and skilled communicators as they grow into young adults.
The most important thing to remember in all this is the word ‘speaking’. The word is about communication, and the way we communicate at home is often transported into other areas of our life. By becoming aware of how we speak to one another in our private lives, we are then able to become better communicators in every aspect of our lives.
Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking Coach and founder of ‘Building Voices Public Speaking’. She is an award-winning public speaker who has competed at the highest level of public speaking in Australia. She is passionate about helping children to be happy and confident when public speaking and communicating. For more information visit, www.buildingvoices.com.au or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.facebook.com/buildingvoices/
Building Voices Public Speaking is proudly supported by Smartline Personal Mortgage Advisers – Cheltenham, and Privaro Design.