How are your relationships? I mean all your relationships – with your parents, siblings, bosses, co-workers, partner, children.
When you have an issue can you raise it with them, with a level head, without emotion taking control of your higher brain functions and forcing expletives and insults out of your mouth? Is your communication effective – does it get the results you need?
I have some strong views about the psychology of communication. I have some strong views about parenting. Many don’t agree with them or, more often, haven’t thought about things this way. But these views are solid, based on research, evidence and years of experience. In the first instance I had a wealth of experience in what didn’t work – what was ineffective.
After I’d had enough of all that I started researching what was effective. What did effective communicators know that I didn’t? Where did they get their skills? Why didn’t I have them?
Years of research later – how effectively you communicate and deal with your emotions is a direct reflection of how (and if at all) you were coached in this skill as a child.
Children are a pain – they don’t act like they SHOULD when they are full of emotion. Whether it be disappointment, anger, resentment, fear, stress, sadness, guilt. They have the audacity to stamp their feet, say ‘NO’ over and over, refuse admonishment, shout, spout insults, they refuse to even try to understand your point of view and generally stop being at all helpful.
Well I know a LOT of adults like that. The difference? The adult has the higher brain function (ability), but lacks the understanding (skill), to take control of their emotions and rationalise. The child doesn’t have the ability (up to around 7) or the skill. The At around 7 the brain is almost fully developed and can begin to practice this. Therefore the ability comes with age. The skill comes with learning and practice. They can only practice a skill they have been consistently taught – like any skill. If they haven’t had sufficient exposure to the skill – the art of handling emotions and communicating effectively – they have nothing to practice.
Were you taught the skill of recognising and controlling your emotion? Did you learn from an effective adult how to express your emotion appropriately? Did you learn the art of effective communication?
Many don’t – the alternative in many a household is this.
Adult – ‘Come on darling get your shoes on and stop moaning’
Child – ‘Mummy my tummy hurts’ (manipulating/vying for attention) #
Adult – ‘I’m sorry darling but we have to go now so get your shoes on’
Child – ‘No I want to get monkey’
Adult – ‘put your shoes on and then we’ll get monkey’
Child – ‘No I want to get monkey now’
Adult ‘Put your shoes on or (threat) we’ll be late, I won’t let you get monkey at all, I will take a star off your chart, you won’t have sweets when we go out etc etc (the list of threats in an adults arsenal is endless’
a) the child, having experienced many punishments, gives in and does as told out of fear (conditioned response)
b) the emotion is so out of control the tantrum escalates, the threats didn’t work and the child is in emotional meltdown
As I said I have my views. In my humble but accurate opinion neither of these results is acceptable or desired. I am also sure that, given the alternative, the choice of most loving and attentive parents would be the following result.
c) # at this point the calm/emotionally intelligent (coached through emotions as a child) adult realises that something must be bothering the child. They haven’t mentioned a tummy ache until now but on reflection they haven’t been themselves this morning.
Adult – ‘Ok I’ll help to put your shoes on and we’ll have a big cuddle and you can tell me what’s bothering you’.
Child – feels listened to and closer to being understood. Fear isn’t present as they are not used to punishments. They’ve had experience of feeling better when the adult notices they are not ok.
Adult – ‘I see you’re not very happy this morning.’ ‘We take some deep breaths when we are feeling a big feeling.’ ‘I’m listening if you want to talk in your calm voice’
Child – We can’t control what the child will do/say in this situation. What we are aiming for is allowing the child to experience their emotion and then shown an appropriate way to express it.
After being listened to, calmed, understood, and soothed the child is much more cooperative, even in an improved mood, capable of a smile and happy to participate in a joke to lighten the mood. The parent may not get to the cause every time, the child rarely knows the cause but learns to with practice and over time. The parent showed the child it’s okay to have emotions and to feel out of control it’s normal, especially when you’re small, and I understand how you feel. A much healthier message than ‘what’s wrong with you? (there must be something wrong with you). Why are you acting like this? (I don’t understand you and if I don’t understand you I cannot help you – you’re on your own kid!).
It is not ok in our house to shout, threaten, punish, insult, blame, be rude, or demand. This behaviour is not acceptable – understandable but not acceptable. If my daughter does these things I do firmly remind her of our agreement. I use statements like ‘I don’t like it when you are rude to me/I don’t like the way you are talking to me/I am going to leave the room and calm down and I’ll talk to you when you can be polite’. This goes both ways and she is fully entitled to remind me of our agreement when I make mistakes – shout, blame etc.
I am not permissive – there is discipline in our house. That is there are boundaries. People don’t like being shouted at, insulted and controlled. I don’t like spending time with my daughter when she does anything like that. I tell her that and she can relate to it. Just like any adult she doesn’t like being shouted at, controlled (threatened or punished), told what to do or blamed.
The alternatives are these. We say how we feel, we take time to calm down if emotions are taking over our manner, we ask if we want something, if we are feeling bad/out of control we ask for help, we apologise if we are not sticking to our agreements.
Basically we have protocols and we are expected to stick to them. There are no punishments for not doing so. Why? Because emotional intelligence and effective communication are skills and it is not acceptable to punish someone for not grasping a skill quick enough or making mistakes whilst learning that skill.
My child and I are learning these skills – no one taught me but I have a couple of people from my childhood to thank for giving me a glimpe of these skills and the possibilities. I made a promise to myself to improve this skill and get effective so that I can teach my child. I refuse to threaten or punish. I’ve found another way. I have an amazing child who deserves to live without fear and with the ability and emotional intelligence to effectively talk about her feeling and feel better – taking control of her own stress levels.
I’m still learning and I still make mistakes – as with any skill – but no one punishes me. What keeps me improving if it’s not fear? A conscience – something that fails to develop in the presence of fear.
If you want to learn more about child development and alternatives to fear based parenting please consider further reading
- Discipline Without Distress – Judy Arnall
- What Every Parent Needs to Know – Margot Sunderland
- How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk – Adele Fabler, Elaine Mazlish
- The Psychology of the Child – Jean Piaget