How to listen to get my child to talk was a mystery I couldn’t solve when my children were young.  I mean, how to get your child to REALLY talk so you knew what was going on at times when you knew something wasn’t okay for your child.

I remember my own son becoming so upset about nursery school that eventually I let him stay home. Some months later, when he was settled in primary school, we drove past the previous school and he said,

‘Oh, that’s where I used to go to school. I didn’t want to go because they wanted me to be in the Christmas play.’

Here he was telling me exactly what the problem was – but months earlier, nothing I’d tried helped me to find out what was wrong. I just had a child who was so upset that nothing worked when it came to leaving him at school.

What I wish I’d known then was how to connect so he would tell me his story. 

Here’s a coaching tool to unlock communication that I wish I’d known back then.

If you want your child to talk, a key awareness that’s needed is to ‘PARK’.

Whether the issue is bullying, your child unhappy at school, sibling  rivalry or whatever, often as parents we rush in with a PLAN  (i.e. find solutions), instead of ‘PARKing our own story to hear our child’s. So often we try to imagine the problem. We try to do something helpful. We try to offer a solution. But first your child  needs to experience that you’re connecting with  his (or her) perspective.

When your  child senses you don’t ‘get him’, he’s likely to keep up the non-communication barriers. He needs to sense you’re there for him. that you want to hear hist story,

‘Well, of course I’m there for him,’  I would have replied.

What I didn’t realise then was that to really ‘be there for him’ the first thing I need to do is PARK my own agenda.

And as a parent, my agenda was often ‘Fix it.’

We want instant ‘sort it out.’

But some things need time. Some things need to be processed.

Just as the most successsful doctors are those who listen first to you, who hear what you think, what’s concerning you, what you know  is needed – that is what your child needs too.

So PARK your agenda: your desire for a quick fix, your desire to try to reason that he really likes school / that he has lots of friends/ that his sister likes school. None of your  information is likely to be helpful for him, at this point.

PARK your frustration, your worries that you have to make this better.

Put yourself in neutral.

Choose to see your child’s situation with compassion, trying to imagine it from his perspective, and yet without emotionally hooking in.

Imagine if the doctor became upset that he couldn’t ‘fix you’ – you would lose all sense of trust and safety with him.

So PARK everything that’s about you – your desires, your emotions, your solutions.

Choose to put that all aside and just be present to your child.

Listen without interrupting; without offering solutions.

Show by your body language, by your listening presence, that you are there to hear your child’s story.

What I’m suggesting isn’t easy. It takes time, skill and practice on your part. Here’s another blog about the Koemba approach on how to effectively communicate with your child because a deeper connection is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give your child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last edited October 25th 2015

If you’re anything like I was when my children were young  – those words filled me with anxiety.

I needed my child to be happy at school so that I could feel okay about it.

So how to respond in a way that’s actually helpful?

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own anxiety that our response is actually about trying to calm our own anxiety – rather than responding to him.

Here’s some of the tactics we parents use in our attempt for ‘smooth entry’.

Parent: Unhelpful Tactic 1

We try to do is convince him he thinks /feels otherwise.

‘Of course you want to go to school – you love school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 2

Change the subject.

‘Oh, look.  There’s Johnny.  Let’s go to the park together.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 3

Compare.

‘Your sister loves school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 4

Try to reason.

‘You’ll be home in just a few hours.’

‘But last week you said you really wanted to go to school.’ (Maybe he did – but that was last week –not now!)

Parent  Unhelpful Tactic 5

Bribe.

‘Be a good boy and go to school and I’ll buy you an ice-cream on the way home.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 6

Belittle.

‘Big boys all go to school.’

These tactics aren’t helpful because:

* Your child’s not feeling heard or ‘feeling felt’.

(When his emotions aren’t calmed, he won’t be able to figure out how he can handle the challenge).

* When he experiences his parents ignoring what he’s experiencing, over time he might begin to doubt or ignore his own inner experiences /  thoughts and feelings.

* If he can’t share these worrying emotions with you because you ignore / divert him then  he might  start thinking that he can’t share  other concerns him with you.

* He might feel resentful towards a sibling (just because she likes school, why should that mean he does?)

* And if he figures that bribes get him rewards, you’re creating a situation where he’s more likely to complain about more things. (‘Mentality: ‘The more I complain the more ice-creams I get!’)

* Shaming a child might get the immediate result you want, but it means he’ll just be stifling his worries, rather than learning he’s got a supportive mum / dad who will listen and help him figure out what’s needed.

So what can be helpful?

* Be aware that, even if you’ve been careful about what you say, your child ‘reads’ you – your body language, tone of voice, muscle tension, facial expression. If he senses you’re tense/ worried/ anxious/ don’t want to ‘let your baby go’  – he’ll cooperate with you – and give you the behaviour that you are subconsciously  ‘asking him for’. This means making sure you’re settled and calm about the situation. (And sometimes one parent copes better at the school gate than the other parent – try to plan it that way if possible).

* Respond to what your child’s experiencing – not to your own needs.  It’s so easy for us to so want for it to be okay, that we’re trying to soothe him for our own sake, rather than being tuned in to what’s actually helpful for him.

* Respond to his words.‘ So you don’t think you want to go to school today. Tell me more.’ Often just having a chance to talk about it, knowing someone’s really listening, may be all he needs to do. And maybe there IS something that’s not okay, that he’ll need your support to sort out.

* Empathise. Notice his body language and facial expression as well as his words. Try to ‘get into his skin’ and feel what he’s feeling. Naming the emotion helps him to ‘name’, ‘claim’ and ‘tame’ the emotion.

‘You’re feeling sad/ worried about going to school?’ If you name the emotion, he’s more likely to have a sense that his experience is normal / understandable to others and this makes it easier for him to deal with overwhelming emotions.  He’s more likely to calm down when he ‘feels felt’.

Our culture tends to give a message ‘big boys don’t cry’ but our tears when we are upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. Our ‘upset tears’ contain stress hormones – so when we’ve ‘had a good cry’, we feel better / more able to cope. Having said that, there’s a time  (Like going into the school gate) when tears most probably aren’t going to be helpful. Time to be listened to beforehand can reduce risk of tears at the gate.And avoid expressions like ‘Don’t cry.’ (All he’ll hear is ‘Cry’!)

Even young children can learn to use focusing on their breath to contain themselves. (Great at the dentist or doctor’s) Remind him of something that will be encouraging or reassuring. (‘I’ll be right here to meet you at home time.’)

* Some children battle to be away from the parent. Some token object to ‘keep safe for me’ or ‘so that you know I’m thinking of you’ that he can tuck into his pocket can give him something tangible to feel and reassure himself at times when he might need to calm himself during the day.

* Giving a choice can be helpful.  Perhaps as you get close to the school your child becomes increasingly clingy. ‘Would you like me to walk to the classroom door with you or do you want to say goodbye in the hall?’ Not going to school isn’t being offered as an option – but, by making a choice, your child doesn’t feel powerless in the situation

*  Daily transition times – home to school – can be stressful. Do what you can to minimize stress, like having everything ready beforehand, know where the car keys are, leaving five minutes extra early. A calm start to the day can make all the difference.

*  Keeping still (comparatively) and concentrating and cooperating all morning is stressful for young children. Plan for a healthy breakfast to start the day and an opportunity to work off a bit of energy. (Can you walk to school?)  Likewise, time to work off energy on returning home is needed.

In my years as school teacher/ principal I found that Monday morning blues after the first weekend is very common, even with some children who started school happily for the first few days. Forewarned is forearmed.  Be extra aware of what might be needed after the weekend so that you can respond helpfully before meltdown happens!

I’d love to hear your experiences.

Happy schooling!

 

 

Last edited September 03rd 2012

I had a parent once approach me with the following:

“My daughter has never failed at anything.  She’s extremely bright; everything seems easy to her.   I worry about what will happen when she takes more challenging classes.  How will she handle it if she finds something that is not so easy for her?

Eventually this mother revealed that she could see herself in her daughter.  She also was a straight-A student in the early grades, but when she reached Chemistry and Trigonometry classes in high school, she was met with extreme discomfort.  Instead of persisting, trying to get help with these subjects, admitting to her parents and teachers that she was struggling, she stopped trying.  She was in the midst of an identity crisis.  She had always been known as “The Brain,” and could succeed at everything she tried.  Now she questioned herself..  What’s going on?  Maybe I’m actually NOT smart!  Her solution was to drop the difficult classes, identify with students who were not so bright, put up a new face that said:  I’m done with all that high-achieving stuff.  That’s for the egg-heads.  I just want to do the bare minimum and then go out with friends.

On further discussion, the mother said that her parents had made such a big deal of her being “smart.”  When she learned to read at an early age, her parents had her read for relatives and friends who came to visit.  Everyone exclaimed about her smart she was.  This became her identifying label.

It would have served her better if her parents had simply enjoyed her reading with her.  She must have felt a growing sense of competence, as with accomplishing whistling or snapping her fingers!  Her parents might have said, “You can read a lot of words all by yourself now.  It looks like you really like to read.  Is that right?”

When we assign the labels “smart,” or “bright,” to a child when she is successful we are saying, “Because you can do this, you are smart.”  When the child encounters a more challenging task, it just stands to reason that she might say, “Because I can’t do this, I am NOT SMART.”  This is what Martin Seligman (The Optimistic Child) calls a “stable attribution“.

If we think of “smartness” as stable, that means it doesn’t change.   It is a characteristic that remains in us, not malleable.

If, however, we attribute our accomplishments to conditions that are malleable, our whole outlook changes.  We remain in control of how well we perform.

Suppose 4-year-old Jack is reading along and comes to the word “traffic.”  The “tr” blend and the length of the word make this one a challenge for him.  If he has often been evaluated for his reading ability (e.g., “You are so smart!”) he might fear how he will now be evaluated (Yes, they pick up on this evaluation thing pretty quickly!).  But if the parent is sitting beside him, just noticing Jack’s own feelings of competence, the evaluation doesn’t come into play.  It might go as follows:

Jack:  I don’t know this word.

Mom:  Wow.  That’s a new one for you.  And it’s tricky.  Let’s sound it out together.

Later, Mom might later share with Dad, in Jack’s presence, “We found a new word today in Jack’s book on trucks.  It was a hard one, ‘traffic.’  We had to work at that one, so we sounded it out together and then Jack went on reading.

Again, a common thread this week is the importance of our interpretation of successes and failures.  Our children will follow our lead.

See if you can pay attention to your own attributions and the labels you might give to your child.  Are you aware of any?  Please share!

Last edited May 22nd 2011

This is a very good question!  As parents we tend to worry about our children’s hurt feelings when they don’t measure up.

The important thing here is:  How does the child explain her low grade?

Does she say, “I guess the teacher doesn’t like me,” or “The test wasn’t fair,” or “I can’t do math” ?

The first two responses put the responsibility of the low grade on external sources, meaning it has nothing to do with Elena.  There’s nothing she could have done differently to get a better grade.

The third response points to her low ability to explain her grade.  “I can’t do math,” implies that she sees herself as incapable and therefore not able to improve.  Her performance in math is stable, doesn’t change.

But perhaps Elena says, “I didn’t study enough.  I planned to study, but I got busy watching tv, and then I forgot about the test.”

Here she has taken responsibility for her low grade.  Her belief is that if she studies more, she can do better.   Her performance on this particular test was a result of something over which she has control:  how much she studies.

Next:  How parents can guide their child to a more accurate, healthy view of their successes and failures.

Last edited February 03rd 2011

The Little Scientist

We often see our little ones work hard to accomplish something new.  The child who learns to whistle for the first time has tried over and over again.  Learning to snap one’s fingers is a similar process.  There are lots of trials and errors.  The child takes the feedback (not consciously) from all of the failed attempts and fine tunes those small movements until finally the SNAP is heard.  How exciting!

Here is a perfect opportunity to reflect to your child what you have observed.  Notice the effort:  “Jake, you worked hard to do that.  You tried over and over again until you finally could snap your fingers.”   There’s no need for a lot of hoopla over this.  Rather, calmly notice the effort.

Children have a natural drive to accomplish.  If adults make a “big deal” over new skills, the child may feel more motivated to get the reaction from adults than to learn on their own.  So it’s best to comment on the effort and mirror the child’s feelings:  “You certainly worked hard at that.  I think you’re feeling proud of yourself?”

Research scientists know that they may have hundreds of failures before they get the answer they are seeking.  In pharmaceutical research, for example, the right formula may be trial #583.  Imagine how the scientist feels when trial #198 is yet again not having the desired effects!  In order to complete her goal, she must persevere and try again and again…. and again.  Each failed attempt gives her another bit of information to guide her next trial.

People who fail the most have the most successes!

Last edited February 02nd 2011

How Failure Builds Self-esteem

“What?  Did I read that correctly?   How can failure build self esteem?   My child gets very upset when she fails at something.  She brought home a D on a science test last week and her self-esteem was out the window! “

Allow me to explain.

First, try to recall your little one learning how to walk.  He was crawling fairly well and now was beginning to pull himself up by a chair leg.  Many times he fell back down before he actually brought himself to a standing position.  But he kept trying.  And then finally that first step, and many more attempts to walk. He might have gotten hurt here and there, bumping his head into a sharp corner, perhaps.  Might have even cried.  But did that stop him?  No way!  He was on his biologically-driven developmental course, and he was determined to walk.  Did you worry about his self-esteem?

In The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman describes a self-esteem movement that began in the United States about 40 years ago.  Schools developed self-esteem programs.  Every child was to succeed.  They should all feel good about themselves no matter what.  Teachers were reluctant to give low grades. lest children feel discouraged.  But the result was not an improvement in self-esteem.  Instead we have more depression in children and teens and lower self esteem than before this movement began.

Seligman points out that what really makes people feel good about themselves is accomplishments.  This doesn’t mean blue ribbons or straight A’s necessarily, but acquiring any new skill.  The child who learns to whistle after trying over and over again feels good about their new talent!  If that child had concluded “I just can’t whistle, “ and gave up, he or she would not have had the opportunity to succeed.

It is the child’s (and parent’s) interpretation of failure that is important.  A child who is struggling to understand division may have the interpretation “I’m not good at this; I must be dumb.”  This statement suggests that he or she can’t do any better.  But if she believes, “This is hard, so I’ll have to work really hard at it,” she is likely to persevere until she gets it.

In trying to protect children from the uncomfortable feelings of discouragement parents have sometimes contributed to that first interpretation.  Imagine the following scene:  a  7-year-old boy is trying to draw an airplane.  “This looks stupid.  I can’t do it!”  Mother might say, “Oh, that’s the best airplane I’ve ever seen!”  Her statement is inauthentic and her child knows it.  He knows his airplane does not look like any real airplane.  Also, she is telling her child that it is important that it’s “the best.”

The mother could instead validate her child’s feeling of discouragement.  “I can tell you’re feeling crummy about your drawing.  I feel that way, too, when I don’t do as well as I’d like.  If you practice your drawing I’ll bet it will get better.”

Watch for the next opportunity to respond to your child’s feelings of discouragement.  What could be a helpful way to respond to your child’s frustration?

Last edited February 01st 2011

Anita’s song captures all our mothering worries, whether we say them out loud or if they’re the thoughts chasing through our heads.

‘Are you sick? Are you well?’

Mothers seem to be programmed to be continually asking questions about the child’s welfare.

You’d think Anita’s talking to a two year old.

We forget these questions may be about our need and not helpful for the child .

Keep listening to her verbal torrent in her three minute ‘Mum Song’ rant- this is obviously a much older child.

Anita’s tumbled into a parent trap.

If we ignore the developmental stage of the child we’re ignoring what they most need.

Quentin Blake’s ‘Zagazoo‘ is a fabulous book for a light-hearted look at developmental stages –a parenting book disguised as a child’s book! What’s helpful for the toddler or the preschooler is not necessarily appreciated by the child as s/he becomes more competent. Result – frustration on both sides.

Be aware of your child’s level of development. When we give instructions and comments that are past their ‘sell-by-date’   we’re throwing verbal garbage at our children.

Check through your daily interactions.

What space could open up in your relationship if you put a plug in your verbosity?

Last edited September 02nd 2010

‘Here’s your hat. 
And your scarf.’

These words could be part of the ‘Mum Song’ lyric. Anita Renfroe’s Supermum runs round doing everything for this child. She gives her her clothes and her shoes – and presumably everything else. Imagine this same child on her first day at school.

Where’s Mummy? Teacher’s asking me a question.

I don’t know what I should say. And I’m so hungry.

Mummy’s not here to open my lunch box.

Everybody else is eating sandwiches.

I can’t open this. I can’t open my lunchbox.

I’m so hungry. And I want to pee.

Hold my legs tight together.

I can’t go by myself.

I want to pee so bad.

Uh oh.

Doing everything for your child does not equal loving your child. Love is about helping your child to develop her own competence. Observe your own actions. And your child’s. What are the things that your child could be learning to do for herself? Being a coaching parent is not about throwing your child in at the deep end. It’s day by day gentle support towards competence. What could happen if you choose to support your child to do as much as possible for herself?

Last edited April 27th 2010

Today in “The Guardian” Zoe Williams is fed up with the clashes of  parenting ‘gurus’.

Parenting is tough enough without this type of “’dagger-on-a thread’ hectoring”.

Here’s my different, and potentially more helpful perspective.

Parent Coaching provides parents with a support person (either on a one-to-one or in a group context) and trusts that you, the parent is the expert on your own situation.

In Koemba we  talk about the ‘contuitive parent’ – the parent who uses both their conscious awareness of what is helpful in the particular context together with trusting their own intuition, ( hence ‘con-tuition‘ ).

Trust your intuition – that inner sense of what your child  really needs. We have parented successfully for generations. We wouldn’t have survived as a human race if we didn’t know how.

Combine this with your conscious knowledge and you have what is needed to successfully nurture your children at both a physical and emotional level.

Yes –  be open to new learning. Neuroscience has discovered more about how the brain works in the last decade than in the whole of human history.

It makes sense that if we know how the brain functions we will also know what is needed for young brains to thrive.

Think about the language we use – the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent or ‘good’ parenting-  infers that there’s also ‘bad’ parenting. As Zoe says, parents have enough stress already – so let’s avoid the judgemental language (unless we’re talking about abuse). Try substituting with the question ‘Is what I’m doing helpful?’ When we use non-judgemental language we can figure out what’s working for our own individual children and our families.

I invite you to replace ‘should’ with ‘could’. e.g.  ‘I should be … ‘  changes to ‘I could …’

Once we recognise we have choices we’re no longer helpless victims but contuitive parents who can meet our children’s needs.

Last edited April 22nd 2010

Johnny’s freckled face frowns with concentration.

His wet tongue protrudes slightly in the corner of his mouth.

His fingers carefully move the little red Lego block into position.

Almost finished!

His thumb and third finger hold the smooth angular surfaces upright.

He eases it into position on the roof.

He’s nearly made the car.

Johnny gives a small grin.

He’ll show dad he did it all by himself.

He presses downward on the nobbly top surface of the block.

Ker-ack!

Johnny stares in dismay. His beautiful car!

Smithereens – shiny red, blue and white blocks scattered on the floor.

The little black wheels spin upside down.

‘My car!’ he wails.

The cheerful blocks swim in a brown sea as his eyes fill with disappointed tears.

Dad’s arm is gently on his back. He kneels down.

‘You took so long building your car and then it broke.  You’re feeling really upset about that?’

Johnny nods. Gulps. The tears bubble out.

Johnny burrows his wet face into Dad’s comforting shoulder.

Daddy’s here. He understands.

In sharing this story with me the parent reflects,

‘Before learning about a coaching approach to parenting I would have said something like,

“Oh it’s okay. We can build it again. Don’t get upset.”

Now I stay present to what he is experiencing.

I know that Johnny “felt felt”.

And once he’d cried out his disappointment he set to and rebuilt his car.

The connection between us was really great.’

What’s your response when your child experiences disappointment?

What’s  helpful to ensure your child ‘feels felt’?

Last edited April 14th 2010