Sunday, 26 August 2012

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk

I'm trying to get my head around the principles in this book, and thought that writing a review might help me do that!

The book makes ambitious promises: Peace? Cooperation? Helping children deal with difficult emotions? Teaching independence? Expressing anger without being hurtful? Better relationships? The stories from parents who've used the techniques illustrate just how powerful a few small changes in communication can be. The authors obviously know what they're talking about, and use their experiences with their own children and facilitating groups of parents to make the book engaging and relevant. 

It is a very practical book, with lots of cartoon illustrations, examples, and exercises to practice. At the same time as it being easy to read, I've found applying the techniques really difficult! Maybe that's because I was so eager to read it that I didn't do the practice exercises at the end of each chapter (tut tut!). Maybe it's because reading it coincided with starting speech therapy and another communication course with Westboy, so we were trying to make an overwhelming number of changes at once. Maybe it's because we all get stuck in patterns of communication that are so comfortable and instinctive that they're difficult to change (especially in situations involving strong emotions, bad behaviour, rushing around and feeling flustered!). And perhaps I'm just so tired and forgetful that in the middle of situations when I should use these tips I tend to think "um, what did the book say again?!".

I reckon it's the kind of book that will become increasingly useful as my children get older. With a child aged 1 or 2, bits of the book would be relevant (I can use some of it with Westbaby already), and with each passing year more of it becomes useful. It's probably best to practice these kinds of things before the pressure's on, or certain bad habits form in your communication with children, so I'd recommend it to any parent from toddler-hood onwards. 

The chapter that feels most relevant to us at the moment is "Engaging Cooperation". In the course of each day, there seems to be a relentless stream of getting the boys to do what I want them to do and not do what I don't want them to do. The main things that I've tried to implement so far are not being *too* polite when I'm asking the boys to do things (as long as I'm generally being respectful, saying "please" isn't always necessary and can undermine my request by sounding like I'm pleading). I've started sometimes using single word instructions, rather than longer explanations (So "trousers", instead of "now please pull your trousers up"). Other tips I've used are describing things ("the water is spraying on the floor"), giving information ("walls are not for writing on, paper is"), and talking about my feelings ("I don't like being shouted at").

I like the advice of acknowledging children's feelings and naming emotions, rather than minimising their experiences. For example, I felt that explaining that a blood test Westboy had recently would hurt but not for long seemed to help him cope with it.

The chapter that I found most challenging (in the sense that I'm not sure whether I agree with it or not, and it made me think lots) was called "Alternatives to Punishment". It's such a contentious topic (maybe especially for Christian parents trying to parent with Biblical standards in a very different cultural setting??), and one that I know I don't have all figured out. This book added some interesting thoughts, and useful strategies. The authors' suggestions might become a greater part of my 'discipline repertoire' in the future, as the boys get older. I already try to do things like stating my expectations before issues arise and diverting attention into being helpful, but sometimes it's simply too late for those kinds of tactics to work! I'm still not convinced that ditching all punishment is the best strategy with all children at all times. Time-outs and very occasional smacks have a place in our house at the moment, but I'm open to that changing. So it's a good, thought-provoking discussion, that I'll bear in mind and experiment with, but not implement wholesale.

I feel like Westboy's speech and hearing difficulties (hearing loss, phonological delay, developmental delay) has made us more aware of our communication, and has encouraged us to "raise our game". We simply have to get down on his level, get his full attention, face him, and repeat what he says to check that we understand. It's hard work sometimes, so anything to make that effort more worthwhile is valuable. This is a book that I'd thoroughly recommend, and one that I'll be rereading, taking notes on, practising, and hopefully applying to my communication! I'd love to discuss it with other mums, and have some accountability as I re-read it s-l-o-w-l-y, do the exercises, and start applying more of it in my parenting.

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