Conversations with kids
When the kids were little, conversations happened naturally. We talked and the kids talked – initially with sounds and gestures that we learned to association with words and phrases, and then more complete words and sentences. And our approaches to conversations evolved and changed, as we moved through babyhood, through the ‘threeager’ period (including the occasional tantrum), and into a lot of negotiations and lots of fun in the early primary years.
Changing needs, change in approach
We’re now getting to a stage where approaches to conversation need to be a little more nuanced. Our boy is now ten, and he is at the cusp of adolescence. From day to day (or hour by hour, depending on how tired he is), the way he interacts with us can change. And as he grows older, the social issues he is dealing with change (as well as the challenges academically).
So there are quite a few things he is working through. Some he needs to deal with on his own, and some he struggles with and is looking for support. As a parent, I want to help and be there for him. In my case, I’ve been thinking about the best approach to encouraging / supporting / guiding my son, who is moving into a pre-adolescent stage (with all that can entail).
And then I found this chart, which I think provides a great basis, so I thought I’d share it with you!
A framework for conversations
When I am worried about my kids – due to their struggles, or due to frustration with their behaviour, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how it could be handled better.
I also spend a lot of time teaching – pointing to a lesson in everyday situations (for instance, ‘Did you see how he handled that? You could do that too – might be a good approach?). Somehow, this doesn’t actually lead to much response – I might get a ‘yes, Mum’, or a hug (as he is generally a tolerant and affectionate boy), but I know he is just humouring me. On a bad day – well, let’s just say it isn’t well received.
I’ve kept trying the same ineffective approach though because I wasn’t sure of another way. So when I saw this simple framework, I loved it – because it put things into perspective for me.
I’ve come to realise that paying too much attention can be smothering (even – or maybe especially – when it is said with a lot of affection) and questioning and probing is not necessarily effective, or supportive.
Not everything has to be ‘meaningful’ – and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily matter what we do together, provided we are together.
So, just going with the flow, or going about my day to day business, or letting him take the lead if he chooses (even when it would be much more effective if I showed him a better way to do it), can not only seem easier and more fun, it can actually form a better basis for the times we do need to talk together about something more serious – or when we do need to reprimand or correct. Exhortation or even discussion should be used sparingly, and only when you have a solid basis of trust and love shown through banter, listening and just being together.
That might seem obvious – but it was a real eye-opener for me when I read it.
I also loved these points that Dr Hawkes makes:
- We must win the right to be listened to by modelling what we say – and this can sometimes be done in silence
- We must be prepared to listen (not rehearsing our point of view, or getting reading to rebut what is being said, but actually actively listening)
- It’s important to develop a sense of enjoyment when chatting – so every moment doesn’t feel like a ‘teaching moment’ (as he will legitimately sigh as a response). As a result,
- Sometimes conversations can be silent – a proud smile, sitting together absorbed in a shared experience. For us, they might include watching a sporting match (generally with his father) or a movie (generally with me).
This really shifts the way I am thinking about my time with my son. I am trying to develop an interest in potential (hypothetical) FIFA football teams, and which NBA players are my favourites (and how much they might be worth, given a set salary cap). I have no interest in these matters ordinarily (I can imagine few things more boring, for instance, than reading the sports section of the paper cover to cover), but my son is fascinated by potential sporting teams, and the ramifications of trades and restructures (plus stats. Oh, never ending stats!) And it is actually interesting once I change my perspective – I am finding it interesting, because my son does, and I am interested in him.
Similarly, kicking the footy (sigh) – he loves it. He also loves shooting baskets, and I’d prefer that, so we compromise (and I tolerate the coaching he provides along the way, because I really don’t know what I am doing).
So, how is it working out? Well, it’s early days, and it was the last week of term (so a week of exhaustion for all). However, I think it will be much more effective – if nothing else, it is makes our relationship the central focus, rather than ‘THE ISSUE’ (whatever it might be) – and therefore is less focused on what might seem to be a problem, but rather, what is a real joy. And that’s got to be a good thing.
Have you had any ‘A-ha!’ moments (as Oprah loves to call them) lately (particularly to do with raising kids)?
Do you love them as much as I do?