How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk


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Everybody needs therapy.

No matter how benign our upbringing may seem, we have all been affected in some way - either so deeply that umpteen sessions wouldn't go amiss, or just enough that one trip to the couch would give us the needed wherewithal to improve.

I fall somewhere in the middle.

I'm sure I'm too self-conscious to seek professional help in the form of visiting an actual person, so I, for one, am extremely grateful for the mountain of self-help books that are available. Not that I agree with reading them all, but it just gives more likelihood of finding something that is appealing, and therefore more likely to be applied.

Phil McGraw did it for me. Maybe his direct approach was what appealed to me, I don't know - well, I do. . . it did - but it certainly made me sit up and take notice, and realise that I seriously needed to change if I wanted to lead any kind of happy life.

Further to that, about four years ago I was faced with a minor crisis in my life, and to navigate my way through that I turned to Feeling Good by Dr David D Burns. I was particularly effected by Burns’ definition of empathy

Empathy is the ability to comprehend with accuracy the precise thoughts and motivations of other people in such a way that they would say, “Yes, that is exactly where I'm coming from!" When you have this extraordinary knowledge, you will understand and accept without anger why others act as they do even though their actions might not be to your liking.

That's the kind of turnaround definition that can put a person right on the road to recovery.

McGraw's Self Matters and Burns’ distorted thinking patterns have been life-changing for me.

Not Sure Whether To Have Children? This Book'll Make Your Mind Up For You!

Once I had some semblance of balance in my life, the idea of having children had become less daunting, but I was still not completely sold on the idea. I was still blocked by the anxiety of raising children - I was still convinced my old personality was too strong not to affect any child I fathered in some detrimental way.

One day, I was in the library browsing the health section, intent on looking for books to give some idea on how to communicate with the children in the community I belong to. It might have been the crazy font that made How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk stand out to me - maybe it was the forthright title - and I picked it out and opened it up.

Bang in the center of the book are the illustrations explaining, “Show Respect For A Child's Struggle. "

I think I almost burst into tears there and then.

It was simple, it was gentle, it was loving. It was empathy in action in the parent/child relationship. It was Burns’ definition in everyday use, in the most important relationship we know.

I quickly turned to the beginning and found myself reading the author's scattered notes taken from a parent group led by Dr Haim Ginott:

Direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave.

When kids feel right, they behave right.

How do we help them to feel right?

By accepting their feelings!

Problem - Parents don't usually accept their children's feelings; for example:

    "You don't really feel that way"
    "You're just saying that because you're tired. "
    "There's no reason to be so upset. "

Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them not to know what their feelings are - not to trust them.

The first chapter, “Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings", was all about the power of parents being empathetic in their dealing with their children. I took the book home.

Over the next few days Kath and I read parts of the book to each other with varying emotional reactions. It was funny, it was direct, it was moving - but, most important, it was so darn do-able!

It is hard to pick highlights out of a book that is short and to-the-point. One of the appealing things about How To Talk. . . - and of its major source of inspiration, Between Parent & Child - is its brevity. Both books present practical suggestions with only brief forays into the psychology of parenting. They let the words and scenarios speak for themselves. If I'm pressed: Chapter 3 - Alternatives To Punishment, especially the illustration of a mother and child at the supermarket, and how to deal with the public tantrum - a parenting discombobulation if ever there was one. And, of course, one of our favourite quotes on the quirky suggestion of writing notes to children in order to Engage A Child's Cooperation:

Older children also like receiving notes. A group of teenagers we worked with told us that a note can make you feel good, “as if you were getting a letter from a friend. " They were touched that their parents cared enough to take the time and trouble to write to them. One young man said that what he appreciated most about notes was that “they didn't get any louder. "

So, the only question I was left with now, was: How Quickly Can We Start? About a year later Annabeth Poppy was born.

Of course, it hasn't been plain sailing. It's not about learning techniques by rote - this is the scenario, this is how I should respond. It is about (re)learning a way of life - an outlook. These are methods of communication that will work with all people, as long as they are employed with honesty and compassion. And it is never too soon to start trying them with your children - even just to get used to the feeling of the words in your mouth. Pretty soon it seems as if there is no other way.

Dr Haim G Ginott's Between Parent & Child is the bedrock. Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish is a more moving and emotionally touching book - it reads more like a story than a “guide". But How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is the one that made everything fall into place.

Further Reading
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.
Between Parent & Child and Between Parent & Teenager Dr Haim G Ginott

Rory Sullivan writes Hamelife , a website dedicated to helping parents negotiate the unpredictable waters of parent-child communication. With the 30 Ways at its heart, Hamelife encourages parents to avoid exasperating their children by embracing empathy, respect, and patience.


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