He just does not listen.
You know you’re not supposed to yell. And you’ve tried, hoo boy have you tried, to stay calm, ask nicely, and resist the urge. But sooner or later your fuse snaps and that mean voice… it just comes out. And then – hallelujah – he finds his shoes/brushes his teeth/puts the marker away. In other words: he listens. You feel awful, but what the heck else are you supposed to do?
I was lucky enough to attend an Oakville Parent-Child Centre parenting conference this past weekend (thanks DTJ for the invite!). I hadn’t heard of the keynote speaker because yes, I often live under a rock, but she. was. awesome. I know I use that word a lot, and I’m even more aware of how annoying it can be since ‘Everything is Awesome’ is in fierce competition with ‘Let it Go’ in our house, but it’s true guys, she really was. I thought I had this parenting thing down but she, well, nailed it. Jennifer Kolari, the founder of Connected Parenting and go-to Child and Family expert for Steven and Chris, Canada AM, and Breakfast Television, taught us how to stay CALM. I don’t know about you, but with three kids pulling me in twelve different directions every minute, let’s just say I could use a little more calm.
Here’s how it works. Say your darling child is freaking out because she doesn’t want a single bite of dinner. And you’re about to go all Mommy Dearest because it’s her mealplan choice and you just spent an hour making it with her “help”. Here’s what you do:
- Connect. Fuggedabout your agenda, put yourself in her shoes, and create a safe place.
- Affect matching. This means copy her body language to display the same emotions. Be genuine – not drama queen.
- Listen. Do this by paraphrasing, summarizing, clarifying, and wondering.
- MIRROR. Which you’re already doing avec all-of-the-above, but what kind of technique would it be if it was called CAL?
So instead of “I already told you to eat it,” try “You are not interested in food tonight,” while wearing her furrowed brow/pouty lip/crossed arms. After a few more sincere responses à la “You really thought you wanted this, but now you don’t,” and “You’re right. That broccoli is a lot greener than it was before we cooked it,” the magic starts to happen. In other words, she starts to chill. That’s when Jennifer suggests you take a step back, as in “I know you don’t feel like eating right now, but the problem is your tummy will be hungry when you’re trying to fall asleep. I’m just going to go to the bathroom while you think about it. Be right back.” And then you walk away, or at least turn your back, to giver a moment to reflect. If she starts eating before you return, which apparently is quite likely once you’ve got this CALM thing down, you give her a thumbs-up and a smile – NOT a happy dance. If she’s a little more stubborn, well, I hear ya. Jack can finish a bowl of ice cream in half a second yet has to chew one spoonful of rice for ten minutes. Your stubborn little picky eater needs a calm explanation (see what I did there?) of a natural consequence. In our house, one of our dinner rules is you have to try one bite of everything and have at least the same number of total bites as your age before you can bail with fruit, so for us that consequence would be “Okay, Jack, I see you’ve decided not to eat anything at all. I guess that means no fruit since you’re just not hungry.” And then the key: consistent follow-through. We’ve only ixnayed the uitfray once – he didn’t starve.
A few other takeaways from the talk:
- Timeouts shouldn’t have such a bad rap. In Ms CALM’s words “You hit, you sit.”
- Yelling is only ever scary or hilarious… probably not what you’re going for. As JK put it, ask yourself ”Am I about to say something that I feel like saying or something that my child needs to hear?”
- Baby play is important to connect with a kid no matter how old she is. I’ve been amping up my go-to baby tickle rhymes on Alex and Jack to test this theory. It’s correct.
- Extra sensitive kids need food every one and a half to two hours to avoid those sugar crashes. I’d go even farther to suggest that pretty much any kid could be fed every one and a half to two hours to avoid those sugar crashes. Just keep the snacks healthy and on the small side if you’re struggling with a picky eater.
- Giving your kid permission to have a tantrum, neigh, helping them set-up to have a full-on freakout, is the best way to cut it off. She used a fancy psychology term about paradoxical something or other, but the gist is that giving your approval takes all the fun out of it. Or something like that.
We ran out of time for all of the wisdom that Jennifer Kolari wanted to share, but luckily she’s smart enough to have written it down. Check out Connected Parenting for your younglings, You’re Ruining My Life for your teens, and ConnectedParenting.com for all of the above.
If you’ve fallen into a pattern where he only listens when you yell, the only one who can break that pattern is you. Instead of dismissing him with a “You’re okay,” try some active listening and see where it takes you. You listen to him… he listens to you… you listen to him… it’s kinda like you’re part of a team. Awesome.