Thursday, 24 February 2011

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

As my little girl is rapidly growing older, I thought it was time to start thinking about how to deal with behaviour. I'm convinced that I want to avoid rewards or punishments, but this is virgin territory for me. How do you confront challenging behaviour without either carrot or stick?
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was a title that I'd heard recommended in a number of blogs and forums, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm so glad I did!

It's a very easy read, and even comes complete with cartoons to illustrate the key points! It reads like a manual and is very firmly grounded in the practical application of the tools it offers. In fact, the authors even set assignments and exercises to complete, and exhort you to actually write your responses. Their background is in parenting workshops, and reading this book made me feel I had attended one. I particularly appreciated the numerous references to when parents, and even the authors themselves, get it wrong and how it is possible to put right your inevitable slip ups. This is a book written for fallible human beings and unique, complex relationships, not for textbook, theoretical families.

The authors clearly regard children in a positive light. It's a far cry from the conventional attitude that children are basically bad and need cajoling to become socially acceptable. Instead, the approach is unremittingly respectful and relies on developing good relationships within a family where all members can speak freely and solve problems together.

A revelation for me was that it is acceptable, even essential, that we show our true emotions to our children. I have somehow always felt that certain feelings, especially anger, should be hidden, and the goal of a good parent should be to maintain a calm appearance. I realise now how dangerous this could be. You run the risk firstly of overreacting when all those suppressed feelings finally explode out of you, or perhaps worse, you pass on the message to your child that strong emotions are unacceptable and must be hidden away. The book provides practical ways in which we can acknowledge our anger, and model good ways to deal with it.

A comment at the end of the book really struck me. The authors identify learning their skills with learning a new language "To learn a new language is not easy. For one thing, you will always speak with an accent. . . . But for your children, it will be their native tongue!" (p271) Making the effort to sidestep the generally accepted methods of raising children has an impact not only on our relationship with them, but also on their relationships with others. We are providing them with the tools to communicate effectively. I can think of few better gifts I could give my daughter than that.

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