Tuesday, May 6, 2014
'How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk': A Parenting Savior
After a particularly tumultuous day of sibling fighting, parent frustration, a few tantrums, and lots of tears, I decided to call a family meeting. I invited my daughters and my husband very formally, and we all sat around the kitchen table. All of us wore serious expressions on our faces. "We had a bad day, family," I started the meeting, "but that doesn't mean that we need to continue to have bad days. This meeting is a way for us to air out our frustrations and come to some good solutions to what could help ease those frustrations."
I started by listening to everyone air their grievances which ranged from potty language (yes, my four year old, Story, loves to use the word "poop") to bossiness and surrogate parenting (my nine year old, Raina, sometimes believes that it is her place to parent her little sister which enrages both her little sister and her parents). I wrote down what everyone said, and wrote down workable solutions to each problem. I repeated what my children said and no idea was deemed wrong or bad. We talked very civilly for almost an hour, and even though Story squirmed a bit by the end of the meeting, she very much enjoyed raising her hand and offering solutions to the problems we discussed. The best part of the meeting was when my husband and I both looked at Raina and said, "Rain, you have the best job of all in this house. You get to be a big sister. You leave the parenting to us." With tears in her eyes, she looked at all of us and said, "But, how do you be a big sister?" As a family we wrote down what an ideal big sister would be (helpful, fun, loves to play with the little sister, shows the little sister how to do things), and what a not so great big sister is like (bossy, bully, a parent).
After we finished with everything and everyone had a chance to talk, share and offer solutions, we concluded our meeting. We left the table smiling and hugging, and I felt great knowing that Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish once again provided me with great tools of how to be a better parent and how to help my daughters be better communicators and overall better people. The classic parenting book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" helps. PERIOD. I can honestly say that as I was reading the book, I felt better knowing I had new skills to help my children (and myself) stay sane in arguments and conflicts.
I don't care what kind of family you have, there are bound to be conflicts, and personally, I don't always know the best way to solve the conflicts that arise. When my four year old invades my nine year old's space and ruins her toys, my first thought is "Raina, they are only toys - plastic, cheap ones at that. Story is the only sister you will ever have and if you had let her play with you in the first place, she wouldn't have ruined the toys." After reading Faber and Mazlish's sage wisdom, I have better tools to help both Raina and Story deal with their frustrations in this situation. What do I do differently? I acknowledge the situation (Wow, it sounds like the two of you are really upset with each other.) I observe and report on what I see (I can see, Raina, that you are frustrated that your sister ruined these toys. Story, it looks like you are very upset that Raina didn't let you play with her and so you got mad). Then, I let them know that I have faith that they can come up with a solution to the problem, and I walk away. That's it. There is no more yelling at Raina to get over it. There is no more punishing Story for ruining toys.
Is it perfect?
Parenting isn't perfect just like life isn't perfect. Some of the skills work sometimes, and some of them don't work right now, but I refuse to give up. As a parent I get the super power of the permanent do over.
Gone are the days, though, when I make my children feel bad about their feelings (Raina, you will be fine. You're a big kid now, and there's no need for tears). Gone are the days when I put my daughters into roles (Story, you are always so wild, you just need to calm down.). I catch myself almost daily doing things that are just old habits. Like yesterday as we walked home from school Raina told me that she picked a track and field event for her end of school track meet competition. "I want to try the softball throw," Raina said with enthusiasm. I thought of the softball throw from the 2nd grade competition and how far some of the girls were able to throw the ball. I immediately said, "Honey, are you sure? Don't you remember how amazing some of the girls in your grade are at throwing a softball? Why don't you stick with the jumping event that you did so well in last year?" As soon as I said it, I recognized that I was taking away her hope and retracted my statement. One of the best parts of the book was how to encourage autonomy and allow children to make their own choices. The authors explain, "By trying to protect children from disappointment, we protect them from hoping, striving, dreaming, and sometimes from achieving their dreams." I then said, "So, you're trying a new event this year. Tell me why you chose the softball throw."
Because I didn't discourage her, as soon as we got home, she went out in the yard and started to practice throwing a softball. "Mommy, I have some big competition at my school in this event. I'll need to get good practice in before the meet. Do you think you could help me?" I felt so proud of her at that moment. How cool is it that even though she knows she might not win that she is willing to practice and try as hard as she can?
I don't have all the answers, and even Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish admit that things won't go smoothly all the time, but knowing that I have new tools to help my girls deal with their feelings, be more cooperative, and be more autonomous makes me happy. I now have new tools as well to praise them, to help them to not get boxed into a "life role" and most of all how to come to solutions with them rather than use punishments that don't work.
"How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" was first published in 1980, but the lessons and advice still ring true with parents in 2014. For over 30 years, it seems that "parents everywhere, no matter how different the culture, [are] dealing with similar problems and searching for answers." In their updated section at the back of the book, Faber and Mazlish admit "There are problems that cannot be solved by communication skills alone. Nevertheless, we believe that within these pages parents will find solid support - strategies that will help them cope with the built-in frustrations of raising children."
Raising children is the most important job in the world, and yet many of us who are parents don't take time to be students of how to do it. We rely on past experiences, or we just go with whatever emotion of the day overrides our patience or our knowledge that we could be hurting more than helping our children. We all need advice from time to time, and the skills the Faber and Mazlish set forth in this book are both practical and easy, and best of all their greatest hope is that we raise good people AND keep our sanity. What's not to love about that?