Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weekly Column: A Little Less Conversation

Happy Mothers Day to all the super-talking mamas out there!  Today, feel free to speak as abundantly as you wish :)  You deserve it!

I’m a talker.  A long-winded, over-analyzing, in-depth talker.  It’s not so much that I love the sound of my own voice as it is that I worry I’m not being clear, so I repeat myself until I’ve beaten a point to death.  All in the interest of clarity, I’m sure.
But my rambling approach doesn’t work on boundary-pushing toddlers.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet my ‘helpful’ explanations only irritate and confuse an already frustrating situation.  In the middle of a paragraph full of reasoning, my bored toddler probably only catches a few bold words, and forgets the rest.  Or worse, she acts out while I’m still trying to make my interminable point. 
So what’s a talkative parent to do?  There are ways to talk to little ones without making steam come out of their ears – simple habits to implement effective communication – but it all starts with listening. 
Instead of dashing headlong into an analysis of why it’s not okay to hit another child’s head with a magic wand, it could be easier to start by asking a question.  "Why did you do that?"  If it’s because she wanted to see what her friend would turn into, that might require a different (shorter) response than if she’d been mad that the other child was ignoring her. 
The end result will be the same – your child needs to know that hitting is hurtful and wrong – but it can be reached with a simple instruction that makes sense to the child’s circumstances.
Listening before talking teaches our kids that we’re as willing to hear them as we are to lay down our own expectations.  And about those expectations…
It’s best, with toddlers and even young preschoolers, to be clear and concise.  To quickly reach a point.  As you might easily believe, I’m having a terrible time learning this lesson.  Identifying the common areas of instruction and condensing them into easily-remembered one-liners, has become more and more helpful as we learn how to speak so our kids will listen. 
For example, if our children are currently prone to whining, we could become frustrated and angry at every turn, trying to talk them out of whining.  We could punish them.  Or, we could repeat a memorable mantra, and move peacefully away from conflict; we might say, simply, “When you can speak without whining, I’ll be glad to listen.”  Quickly and easily conveyed, this one-liner makes way for actual progress.
Or if our 3-year-old loves dancing on her chair, instead of begging or yelling or explaining propriety, we could say, “Chairs are for sitting, the floor is for dancing,” and help her get seated again.  Over and over if need be, but at least the words we use are more likely to be internalized. 
A few more simple statements in our rotation are “keep your hands to yourself,” “rude voices hurt feelings; please speak kindly,” and the ever-present “please do it the first time you’re asked.”  Can you imagine how many paragraphs I would have otherwise expended on such simple instructions?
There are appropriate times for deeper conversations, but it’s usually not in the heat of the moment – it’s later.  Perhaps even much later, when the child is old enough to explain and question and comprehend reasons. 
By then, after such a history of clipped reminders, I only hope my ponderous verbosity will remain intact.


  1. I can't count the number of times I have said "Chairs are for sitting." Ha ha and I like "do it the first time you're asked" That is one I should add to my repertoire- oh the frustration I've had! Once again, you've said it well, thanks!!

  2. Oh, the value of a mantra!

  3. I'm learning the same lesson myself...usually any detailed explanation gets completely derailed by my easily distracted 2 year old :) So mantras it is...and I hope someday my kids will look back and say "Remember what Mom always used to say..."


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