Interviews with A, her son L and his cousin O both 10

Jan 13, 2018

This week's blog is the first in another series of interviews. A spoke with her son L and his cousin O, both of whom are 10. It's a natural flowing conversation and both boys pitch in. A develops the questions to get more out of the children and they are very responsive, it's a joy to read. A also has two other sons, N is 3 and E is 3 months.

As ever I'm more than grateful for their contribution.

FIRST WE HEAR FROM A:

  • What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned so far with regards to communicating with your children?

I would say … being calm and present when I’m communicating with the kids. I find I can get really distracted, not listen to them properly…um…they end up getting really frustrated because they know that I’m not listening and they’re not getting the answers that they want, and if I can just take a step back and keep present and calm when I’m speaking to them - whatever the subject, I actually get a lot more out of them…um…so yeah, that’s definitely the key to communicating with my kids.

  • When has it all gone horribly wrong for you, and what did you do to fix it?

It tends to go horribly wrong when I lose it, to be fair. If I can remain really calm with the kids whatever they’re going through, whether they’re having a paddy, they’re upset, you know - whether it’s something internal, external, or they’re being naughty - again if I lose the plot, if I get cross or angry..um..it does tend to go more horribly wrong then. So definitely coming back to that place of sort of being in the moment and being nice and calm and not being distracted by anything else around me. Again, fixing it when it is all going horribly wrong is just bringing myself out of it and just starting again really.

  • What is the personal trait you mostly rely upon in your relationships with your children?

I do rely on a lot of humour with my kids to be fair…um… if I can communicate, for example, asking them to do things - I don’t know whether it’s getting dressed or just picking up after themselves… If I can kind of make it into a game and have a bit of a laugh with them, I am 99.9% sure that they’re going to get that thing done. So it’s kinda coming down to their level, with a good bit of humour and making things a bit of a game - will generally really work and I think that’s…that is one of my good traits actually because I’m good at being a child and being a bit immature!!

  • What is your greatest fear for future communications with your children?

I think my greatest fear of communicating with my children is that as they get older - you know, approaching those hormonal teenage years, and reasoning with them becomes more difficult, or if they get more distant….I think, you know, just losing that part of being able to communicate that way that I do now with them….yeah, it does make me feel a bit fearful. And I know that as a parent, you don’t want to be a friend with your child, you do want to be a parent, but also I don’t want to be putting up a wall between us communication-wise as they get older, so that is something that does frighten me for the future years.

  • Do you have strategy for this? If not, what would help?

I don’t have a strategy for that, and I don’t know what would help with that, and I think it’s one of those things that you’re just gonna have to see what happens as it goes along.. but obviously if you can give me a few tips…as we approach that time of our lives with L then that’d be great!

  • When has it all gone wonderfully right, and why do you think that was?

Yeah, it kind of all goes wonderfully right when we use the humour and we stay in the moment - and that’s happening on a daily basis thankfully, we only kind of lose it momentarily. I think because the kids are so young, I think communication is a lot easier. So, I’m hoping we can keep that going…we’ll just have to see how it goes as the hormones start kicking in with the ten year old.

  • What question do you think should be on this list?

That’s a difficult one as well…I’ll have to ponder on that one and let you know when I see you next.

NOW A INTERVIEWS L AND O TOGETHER, :

  • What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

Um….When they shout at you like really loud and the way they’re acting when they, like, shout at you…like what they say if they’re angry or something like shout at you when they’re angry.

-Can you describe the way they might act when they shout at you?

The way they like the wag their their finger as a dog wagging their tail or something.


  • How do you like a grown-up to be when they speak to you?

Very calm, nice, not to be shouting, I just like them to be relaxed. Calm, nice, errr…sociable and just have a conversation with nothing around distracting us

-So you like an adult to speak to you nice and calmly with nothing around to distract?

YES!


  • What is good and what is bad about being a child?

Um….The good thing about being a child is that you have a family to love you and look after you.

The bad thing is that you get told off….you get told off a lot more.

-You get told off a lot more because…

Because maybe someone might tell off you for some reason or you did something?

-Do you think that people might have to tell you more because you’re a child and you’re still learning?

Yes! We need to develop a lot more….Yeah!

-Ok that’s fair enough, so what’s good about being a child is that you're looked after and nurtured by your family and what’s bad is being told off because you're still learning?

YES!

-Okay I think that’s fair enough….is there anything else that’s good about being a child other than having your family around you?

That you get a lot more attention and you get to do more things than being an adult, your mum and dad pay for a lot.

And like every step when you go up, you’re allowed to do lots of new different things


  • Do you find it easy or difficult to talk with grown-ups, and why?

Usually it’s easy to speak to you, but…..-Well it’s not just me, it’s grown-ups in general…but sometimes it’s difficult because sometimes I don’t, sometimes I don’t ,like, feel like getting out where I am? So that’s why I sometimes try and write a little note for you to know how I feel and stuff, but usually I’m okay with just coming up to you and speaking to you.

-So on those occasions where you feel you to want write me a note, why is it difficult to speak to me then? …And you can be completely honest…. (reticence) no…no..(mumbling talking between the boys)

-Is it because of how you are feeling or is it because there’s something I’m doing or not doing?

Usually sometimes it’s how I’m feeling but, sometimes…

-But how would you you be feeling if you feel you have to write a note rather than come and talk?

Like….Like…..I can’t really describe it, I don’t really know.

-Okay. So sometimes you feel you can’t put how you’re feeling into words vocally and so you feel you want to write it down instead? is that right?

Yeah

-And are there any other situations where you’ve felt you’d prefer to write it down rather than talk to mummy or your teacher or anybody?

I would write a letter…. say I got told off by a teacher, and it’s something that’s quite bad and you want to describe it to your mum then I’ll write it in a letter …that I got told off, got badly told off……I’ll just describe it in a letter.

-Okay, so you'd prefer to write a letter to your mum if you’ve done something really naughty at school rather than come home and tell her?

But that’s never happened.

-(laughing) Okay so that’s never happened….


  • Is it easy or difficult for you to speak with other children?

Quite easy.

To me it’s sometimes hard because at our school, I try to speak to my friends and they’re all playing another a game…I can’t remember, but, like, they just ignore me when I just say “‘Hi’ can I play with you?” and they just ignore me, so it’s quite hard to try and speak to other people if I’m lonely or something.

-Okay, I understand, and is there any other reason why you might find it difficult or easy to speak with other children?

The only way it’s easy is if it’s a friend or somebody that comes over to me, like one of my friends and we just start chatting….that’s the easiest ways.

-How about in this situation when you have your cousin O with you, do you find it difficult or easy to speak here and now?

Easy. Because usually, because usually, …….if I’m at his house then he’s usually around….-and do you think that..we’ve known O forever haven’t we? Well basically yes. -So we know O very well? Yeah.

-So do you think it’s easier or harder to speak to school friends you know or school friends that you maybe don’t know so well or does it depend on the person?

It would depend on their personality really ….sometimes it’s hard to speak to my actual friends…because they’re going and playing a different game with a a few other people. I try to speak them to say, ‘Hi, Hi buddy can I play?’ and then they’re just ignoring me playing a game.

-Does that happen very often?

No….No…because then I have at least one of my year four friends to play with…..sometimes…..well….lots of times….


  • Do you think adults understand you? Why / why not?

Yeah.

-Why do you think that?

Because they like to help their child ?

-So you’re talking about parents specifically?

Yeah.

-And when you say help, what would you …

Well, if you’re not in trouble or anything and you're trying to talk like something’s on your mind, well they speak to you nice and calmly … and just see what’s up and then they try and fix it.

Sometimes they don’t get….well….so…they think you’re, like, older than you actually are.

Sometimes when they’re speaking to, like when they don’t … when they don’t understand you when .. like..they’re speaking on the phone, or like on their phone doing something.

-So you think they don’t understand you when they’re distracted by…

Yeah when they’re on the phone or the telly or whatever else could happen…

-So if for example someone was on their phone or…

Like technology…say their telly, their computer…

-Or maybe working? Could they be working?

Maybe they could be watching like a movie or something, maybe working….maybe, I don’t know, watching exercise videos… I don’t know, anything like that.

-So you find that they don’t understand you if they are distracted by something else.

Yes!

-Okay, very good.


  • What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to talk to children?

It would probably be like something that I’ve done in the past, that’s been successful - or I would like to do something that I’m good at to impress other people.

-(re-iterating misunderstood question) So what lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to talk to children?

I’m not really sure….sometimes, like I said before, to think of how old we actually are and how mature we are.

Not treating you too old or too young, but just speaking to you appropriately, like age appropriately.

Say like… what’s good for a ten year old, not like you’re a three year old or something.


  • What question do you think should be on this list? How would you answer it?

I’m not really sure….I don’t really know.


Three's a Crowd

Jan 06, 2018

There are some difficult lessons to be learned about human relationships during a lifetime, and we have to deal with some of the toughest ones in our tenderest years.


A friend of mine has a ten year old daughter who is presently going through the pain of a group of three friends splitting up, into one pair of best mates and one abandoned loner. My friend’s little girl is the one who’s been kicked out. I feel for her, I really do, I remember the same thing happening to me when I was eleven - that extra year giving no extra buffer - and I didn’t have to contend with social media and a world of more sophisticated methods to make a person feel isolated. I also feel for my friend.

It’s heartbreaking to watch our little loved ones in pain, knowing that they just don’t have the same emotional armoury as we do to deal with the cruelty of their peers.

However they are not helpless, and difficult though it is, it’s important that we let our children figure out their problems for themselves. Of course we can offer them support, they need to know that we are there for them, but our explicit advice may not be welcome. Don’t offer it unprompted, but let them know that you are available for them if they need to talk. What they need is to have their feelings validated, to be given reassurance as they try to cope with and regulate their own emotions.

My friend is wise enough to know that it’s not appropriate to take her daughter’s suffering on board herself - tempting though that can be - and that she needs to model resilience, showing her child that the rejection is not due to a failing in her, merely a failing in circumstance, and that at the very least, there is always love to be found at home.

Embody the Future

Dec 30, 2017

It's the time of year where we tend towards reflection on the past and looking to the future. Our children are not unaware of this too.

In November I wrote about how the connection between our brain and our body is very much deeper than we might have imagined, and counselled encouraging our children to consider themselves in a more holistic way.

But how do we do that?

Initially it can be worthwhile getting a little philosophical with them. It’s interesting to find out what and who they consider themselves to be. So why not try asking them? Where and what is their centre, their core? What do they think is the very essence of them? Where do their feelings come from? How do they feel about their bodies? About their minds? How do they think mind, body and emotion work together? What’s the difference, and where do they live? What is their sense of self? What does it mean to be a living human being? Who are they?

If your child is very young, you may feel that this line of questioning is beyond their capabilities, but I would encourage you to give it a go - maybe just one simple question to give them an opportunity to try and express how they think of themselves, phrased in age appropriate language.

The ensuing discussion will give both of you a lot to chew over, and I would imagine that even if not much comes up initially, after a bit of processing time, subsequent questions may well surface.

As well as making the most of talking about your children’s ideas of themselves, engage them in physical challenges that have to do with co-ordination, where the brain-body connection is most apparent. Repeat these activities after a reasonable period of time and address the notion of muscle memory - the truth that we remember with our bodies as well as with our minds. Complex movements using the extremities are especially suited to this. When we are asking fingers and toes to obey our instructions, we are maintaining neural pathways that can easily seize up as we mature. When was the last time you tried to move one specific toe?!

Most important of all is you and your attitude to yourself, to your own body. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, your awareness of how important you are as a role model is critical. Your children will be deeply affected by how they see you behave, so you owe it to them as well as to yourself, to look after yourself, to nurture a positive body image and to respect your physicality as much as you do your mind.

Share this positive attitude with your children - in helping them to see that their bodies are not something that they have so much as something that they are, we are hopefully giving them, and ourselves, a healthier future.

Time to Remember

Dec 23, 2017

Last week I touched upon the importance of using personal memories to enable empathetic communications with our children. I’d like to talk more here about it’s power and how we can help children develop recall skills.

The nature of memory is such that sensory and experiential events stick the most effectively, so we know that every time we are sharing an experience with our children, we have the opportunity to build powerful shared memories. But we are also stuck in a strange dichotomy.

On the one hand, we have a deep seated need to ensure that our children’s memories are predominantly happy ones, and on the other, we realise that (certainly up to the age of seven) those memories we are busy creating are more likely than not to disappear into the ether.

What about you? What is your earliest memory, and why do you think that particular event has stayed with you into adulthood? Is there anything you can learn from that and apply to building happy memories for your children?

Of course we realise that even though very young children may find it harder to remember specific incidences, we are nevertheless putting down deep layers of experience that will accumulate to build a child’s perception of and attitude towards life - that’s why we’re bothering after all - and they may surprise you, especially later on in life. Who hasn’t had a dispute over the details of a shared memory with an older member of the family? Which is the more reliable? Who absorbed the information more accurately at the time, and whose recall of it is more exact now? It’s a difficult call.

One of the ways to help embed memory for you and your children (and to avoid having that argument in the future) is not to wait too long. Try having a conversation the next day, in a few days time and the following week, talking about the event you want to imprint. Don’t just talk about what happened, share the emotion. In doing this, we’re helping the brain to fire all kinds of complex neural pathways.

Be clear about the structure, the order of events, but also encourage your child to talk about how they felt at the time, as those events unfurled. You are teaching them it’s good to remember, to process even negative experiences, and to develop their own personal perspective as well as learning about yours.

Snow Joke

Dec 16, 2017

So here in the UK we’ve had a lot of snow this week.

It’s one of those events that is always notable. As such, it has the power to call to mind all the previous times in our memories that it has snowed. It’s easier for us to access our own childhoods through these less than common events, than through the day to day occurrences.

At the age of around six or so, I recall spending the earliest part of the first properly wintry day of the year, building a snowman in our front drive. I proudly finished him off with carrot nose, old scarf, and the rest of the traditional accoutrements, before being dragged out to help my mum on the weekly shopping trip.

When I returned, I was horrified to find that my precious snowman was punctured all over with small holes - as if he’d developed an allergy to the woollen scarf and had broken out in rash-like indentations.

I grew up the only girl in a cul-de-sac peopled by around half a dozen boys more or less my age, and the only explanation I could think of was that these child neighbours had sabotaged my work. (Not that I was prone to paranoia at all!)

In my imagination, they had attacked my snowman in my absence, poking him relentlessly with sticks, for reasons of their own that I couldn’t fathom, but deep inside swore to avenge.

It wasn’t until much later that I realised the truth of the matter was simply that it had rained whilst we’d been out, and the holes were merely caused by the laws of physics around H2O.

Thankfully, my revenge had gone un-wreaked, and I could get on with feeling slightly stupid in private.

It was an important lesson though - not to let crazy emotion dictate my actions until some rational investigation had taken place.

The daily pressures of adult life can make it difficult for us to take time to access our own childhood and remember just how all encompassing young feelings can be. When we are treated to events that help to transport us back, try and make the most of the insight, in order to offer our own children greater understanding and compassion.