I’d like to think I’m a calm person.
If you asked anyone I know they would probably say that I don’t shout, or lose my temper, or throw things out of windows. In fact at work, where I have a fair amount of responsibility and have to deal with a lot of pressure, I’ve been told that it’s obvious I’m angry because I do this:
Yet at home, it is becoming a bit of a different story.
Our eldest son NJ is eight-year-old and can be extremely strong-willed and I sometimes struggle to deal with it. If he doesn’t like something he can be very vocal about it, be prone to meltdowns and can completely shut down, regardless of who is around and watching. There are days that are a tiresome struggle of constant negotiation and reasoning. There are days where all I get is defiance and refusal.
Some days I’m tired of the bickering between NJ and Roo, his four-year-old sister. Some days I’m tired of them not getting their shoes on, or eating their dinner, or brushing their teeth. Some days I’m literally just tired from having no sleep from Jasperino (age 1) being awake all night.
I’m afraid to admit that at home I do shout, I do lose my temper. I don’t throw things out of windows, but I sometimes feel a bit like this guy:
It’s been bothering me a lot lately. I recently read Emotional Capitalists by Dr Martyn Newman, a leading psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence, and two things resonated with me.
First was how parents can negatively impact on a child’s self-confidence. In the book, he describes a child who is inspired to climb a tall tree all by themself. One parent, who discovered their child at the top of the tree yells out ‘What are you doing up there? Get down at once!’
Another parent, however, chooses to encourage their child’s independence with a ‘Wow! How did you manage to get up there by yourself? Well done! Next time, let me know, so I can make sure you’re safe.’
The two messages are completely different but guess which one is more valuable in cementing a child’s confidence and self-belief?
The second bit of the book that got me thinking was a reference to an American study on how parents talk to their children. The study followed a group of two-year-olds and noted every time parents said something positive to them and every time they said something negative. On average, the children heard 432 negative statements compared to 32 positive statements per day – a ratio of 14 to 1.
I find that completely shocking and my first thought was that it couldn’t possibly be the case in our house.
But then I started listening to myself. I didn’t like what I heard.
The highlights in a single day:
- Stop jumping on the sofa!
- Leave your sister alone!
- Stop kicking the ball around
- Stop shouting (while shouting)
- Stop arguing
- Stop whining
- No, you can’t
There were other days where even the first thing I said to them in the morning was a criticism: ‘Why are you not wearing socks?’, ‘Why haven’t you had breakfast?’, ‘How long have you been playing FIFA?’, ‘The TV is too loud, you’ll wake your sister.’
What kind of impact am I having on my children when all they hear is a blunt STOP! or NO! all day? Is it any wonder that they are having frustrated meltdowns or arguing or refusing to do what I ask? Where is their defining ‘Top of the Tree’ moment than boosts their confidence?
What is going to change?
I am determined to use more positive language with my kids. This doesn’t mean I’m going to let them do whatever they like or spoil them by buying them whatever they want from the shops, just so I can avoid saying no.
Instead, I’m going to find a way to say yes that suits all of us and focus on clearly telling them what they should be doing rather than what they shouldn’t be.
For instance, if I’m taking them to the supermarket, rather than start off by blurting out ‘Don’t run around’ I’m going to try ‘Help me choose the fruit, or go get the milk for me’. Rather than shout ‘Stop shouting!’ I’m going to try ‘Use your quiet voices, please,’ or ‘Take a breathe and talk to me.’
It sounds simple enough, but in practice I’m sure there will be tough times where I become frustrated with their inability to put their shoes on in the morning and slip into the default mode of firing out negative orders. I might even shout, lose my temper or still not throw things out of windows, but the crucial thing is that I’ll be aware and will be cutting back.
So this is where I challenge you to join in. Who wants to make their parenting life that little bit more positive? Not sure? Try listening to how you talk to your kids – how far into the day will it be before you give them a negative response? How about you share your ‘Top of the Tree’ moments below.