Effective Communication – (Seek first to Understand)

Amidst all the books there are on parenting, one of the best titles I have come across is ‘How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk’. This book, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, is over twenty years old and has sold millions worldwide. There are courses, workbooks and spin off books which have emerged from the origional book.

However, the reason I picked it up and (obviously) millions of others was ( I guess) out of sheer frustration and the promise of ‘The Holy Grail’
• How to get them to listen to us!
• And not just listen but actually do what we ask!
• After that is would be brilliant if they could actaully hear all the valuable information, values and life lessons that we are trying to pass on.
• A calm peaceful house which would lead directly to us being calm and peaceful (which of course does not follow but that is a whole other story!).

But the title is obviously suggesting a balance and therin lies the answer. It is not about a one way flow of communication. If we seek first to understand (as Stephen Covey in the 7 habits of highly effective families suggests) it can completely change our attitude, which changes our approach, which changes our actions, which in turn give us the outcomes we have been getting.


Seek first to understand

look beyond the behaviour or the tantrum or the (what seems unreasonable) request. If we deal with what we see on the surface, we may be missing the opportunity to connect and address an underlying need or problem which will only emerge again.
• When they are small it might be easier to see that there is a basic need which is not being met. They are hungry, tired, frustrated, bored or even angry. Knowing this we can identify their triggers for the next time, we can pre-empt it and try ensure it is avoided and when that is not possible we can engage in an empathic way.
• Remember that ’they are not trying to make life difficult for you, they are just trying to show you how difficult it is for them’. (Tony Humphries)

We Have 2 Ears and 1 Mouth, we should use them in that proportion!

Notice your own interaction, are you listening more than talking?
• Reflect back what they have said, either exactly or in your own words as this shows that you are listening and that what they say is important. It is also an invitation to continue talking and is an important building block for their self esteem and confidence

You may be listening, but do they ‘experience’ being listened to.

So much of our day can be spent ‘doing’ so there is not as much time for just ‘being’ with them.
• We may be driving, at the computer, at the sink, etc. So it follows that we may be listening but there is no eye contact or obvious focus on them. In fact a lot of the time we may have our back to them!
• We may listen and hear what they are saying but they do not experience it in the same way as when they have our undivided attention. Obviously it is not possible (or even appropriate) to give full attention all the time but making sure we do so at least once a day is really powerful. Perhaps it is at mealtimes, at bathtime or bedtime, maybe during play?
• One time a day can be a powerful multiplier if you work it out over the period until they are 10 or 15 or 18!
• Be present when you are present.

Ask Questions

This is a great way of encouraging them to talk and it expresses interest in them and what they are saying.
• Closed questions often just require a yes or no answer and we can reach a (sometimes frustrating) dead end. Did you have a good day? Did you like the story? Are you ready to go?
• Open questions work well as they are an invitation to keep talking. What was the best part of the day? Which part of the story did you like best? What was it about ***** that you liked? Which toy would you like to bring with you when we head out?

Play Time

During play, children can often act out or voice what might be going on in their heads or around them.
• Through the game or play it can be a safe and supportive way of exploring what they are feeling or observing.
• It also offers the opportunity for us to interact and give the important messages we want to give without it coming directly from us (e.g it could be the doll/robot/character you are playing in the game). With older children, this can sometimes mean they take the message on board more so than if we say it directly.

The above are just some suggestions on how to listen so they will talk and there are many many more – but you would never read down that far!

If you would like to know the specific ‘How to’ use communication to engage co-operation, have a look at the separate piece ‘Engaging Co-operation – what to do and what not to do’. It is a summary of the tips from the above mentioned book and feedback from working with hundreds of parents over the last 7 years!

I would love to hear from you. If you have any thoughts, stories feedback or ideas you would like to share, please forward them to me at marian@theparentcoach.ie