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Interviews with E and her Daughter B.

Nikky

Here are a set of responses from mother E and daughter B, aged 5. Once again, I'm grateful to them for taking the time to participate. B's interview is transcribed from the recording of E asking her questions. Interestingly B spoke in a baby voice rather than her normal tone, perhaps due to nerves or self-consciousness, but it's hard to say for sure.

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

E - Patience! It feels so important to listen and also to tell the truth. I try to be age appropriate but I do my best to answer truthfully to even the most inopportune questions. I try my best to trust her and now she trusts herself.

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

E - When I lose my temper - if I shout then she shouts back. I realise that my temperament is the bedrock of everything, that I teach by example perhaps even more than by instruction, so I need to be even. And patient! (Of course I find this impossible sometimes...) To fix the horribly wrong situations I need to create calm and of course this starts with me - and breathe….

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

E - So hard to answer objectively, patience again perhaps? Quick thinking? Positivity?

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

E - I don't fear. Yet... TV annoys, she watches very little but when she does she is unreachable, but I see the wind down possibility of it so try not to talk it down in earshot!

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

E - I use adult speech patterns and I give respect and time, same as I do in adult relationships. I hope that as our relationship becomes more adult we can continue in the same vein. We limit the screen very heavily and have plenty of other options for wind down and time wasting - everyone needs to zone out sometimes….

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

E - It goes right when we are not rushed, not hungry and not distracted.

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

E - None spring to mind, happy to answer more if they present themselves x

• What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

B - Because sometimes they speak.... because sometimes they say... I don’t... sometimes they say that I’m not allowed chocolate.


E - Is there something that annoys you about the way they speak?


B - Yes - DJAKK DJAKK DJAKK!!

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

B - “Hello” In a normal voice.


E - What is not a normal voice?


B - DJAKK DJAKK DJAKK DJOGGG DJAGG DJAGG!!


E - Do people sometimes talk to you like that - grown-ups?


B - Yes.


E - Do they?


B - Yes………………you do!

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

B - Good - playing
Bad - I don’t get to cook so much


E - What would you cook if you could cook more?


B - Gingerbread men……..I actually did that before at Gran and Gramps’……and Salmon and Eggs. That’s all.

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

B - Easy, and difficult.
E - Why?


B - I dont really know.

E - Do grown-ups listen to you?

B - Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.


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


B - Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

E - Why?

B - Because they always listen to me, but sometimes Liv doesn’t, cos she’s running.

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

B - Yes - because they listen to me.

• Is there a lesson that you would like grown-ups to learn about how to talk to children?

B - Yes - um ... talking nicely.

E - What do you mean?

B - Like…talking in a singing voice.

E - Can you give me an example?

B - Not really.

E - Is the way I'm talking now nicely or not nicely?

B - In the middle.

• Anything else you'd like to say?

B - No. But please may I watch it?


Interviews with F and His Parents

Nikky


F is 6.5 (the .5 matters!) here he answers my questions as asked by his mother S. Then she gives her responses and finally, there's a reply from F's dad, E. I hope you enjoy them. As ever I am hugely grateful to the family for taking the time to contribute.

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

F - “Like a lolly-pop, a really sweet and tasty lolly-pop and not a sour lolly-pop.”

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

F - Good - “Crisp. Chick. Baa baa baa ba ba ba bap. You can do what you want when you want and you don’t have work.”

Bad - “The parents annoying you. Not being able to do stuff that grown ups can do.”

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

F - “Easy. Because you have to be nice to do it and it’s easy to be nice.”
S - Later on we had a bit more of a chat about talking with adults, firstly about with ones he knows and in this case it easy…
F - “Because the grown-ups care about you. They are interested in you.”
S - And then we talked about adults we don’t know like the ones we meet in shops or the library etc and…
F - “The secret is not being shy.”

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

F - “Easy.”

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

F - “Yes.”

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

S - To be patient. Not to fill gaps in with my own conversation, give ideas time to percolate and evolve. To answer questions openly and honestly and have conversations with the same openness and honesty. That it’s not necessarily what you say that has an impact but how you say it. That there is lots and lots of communication that goes way beyond language, especially (but not exclusively) in the early years. That behaviour can speak a thousand words instantly. That no matter how well you think you are covering up your ‘big’ emotions, small people can tell. That silence and holding a safe space for when little people are experiencing big emotions such as fear and rage, (which are often communicated in a physical way rather than a verbal way,) is crucial for them to move through these emotions and learn that although they are overwhelming at the time we can and do come through them - in my experience they can’t really hear anything your saying, as they are in flight or fight mode. Often speaking at these times prolongs the distress. That it can be the quirkiest of things that you can use to communicate with someone - I’ve found that holding them close and making a low humming sound has a calming effect when especially distressed and overwhelmed.

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

S -
*Pause.

*Reflect.

*Apologise.

*Connect.

*Talk about it later when everyone has calmed down.
*Ask how they would do things differently / what would have worked for them if we could do it again.
*Problem solve together.

*Figure out my triggers and work on unpicking those - after all we all have baggage from our own childhoods.

*We also took a bit of inspiration from an Oliver Jeffers book, ‘The Hueys in It Wasn’t Me.’ In the story a lot of Hueys are arguing, it builds up over time, eventually no one can remember what they were arguing about in the first place and then Gillespie comes along and wants to know if the arguing Hueys… “want to see a dead fly?” Which of course they do and that settles everything. So now, if any of us feel that things are getting heated and want to reset we say, “Want to see a dead fly?” and it seems to calm things down instantly as it’s a very obvious cue that someone is feeling uncomfortable.

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

S - I don’t think there is any one trait that I rely on especially. So much informs how I interact with my child/ren. It’s a whole host of things. And it changes daily (sometimes moment by moment to be fair) to adapt to the daily unique set of circumstances.

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

S - I currently don’t have any fears about this. Perhaps I am missing something? Or being overly optimistic or naive but I don’t feel that a breakdown in communication is inevitable as our children grow older. I feel that if I’m continually fostering and developing a space for communication that is open, honest and non-judgemental then, hopefully, there will be no need later on for my child/ren to not communicate with me. I believe that barriers to communication arise because we become fearful of being mocked or judged or punished. Certainly in my own experience of this, I had the best, most open relationships with the elders in my family (Gran and Great Aunt) who I knew I could speak to without the fear of being belittled, without the worry of being judged or being bollocked because I’d gone and done something stupid.

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

S - Yes. Listen. Be open. Be honest. Think before I speak. Get a bit of fresh air if I need to before I say anything. Treat my child/ren with the respect that I like to be treated with. Be open to the lessons my child/ren teach me. Be flexible in my thinking. Take my child/ren for who they are - I feel that some parent/child conflict is caused by children being unable to live up to the idealised image that the parent holds of who and how they should be rather than the parent truly seeing the child they actually have.

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

S -
*I didn’t rush

*I listened carefully

*I watched intently

*I was fully present

*I picked up on both their verbal and non-verbal cues

*I responded to their needs

*I took my ego out of the frame

*I was flexible

*I didn’t worry about what other adults around us though of my parenting

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

S - What annoys you about how other adults speak to my child/ren? Or just children in general really - mine, theirs, other peoples. Gah, I could get on my soap box about that one!

E - If it is of any use I would like to offer one reply to cover all the questions above. So much of the communication with my child so far doesn’t happen with words, it’s with other objects and books, animals in the garden, silence too strangely enough, trying to employ the skill of saying not very much or nothing if it’s the best response at the time, it’s not easy but it might be the best. We all make mistakes though so when it goes wrong you have to try and pick a time afterwards to explain and make any relevant apologies for the purpose of clarification. Ultimately, and where words are involved, you have to try and be there in a once removed respect. In that being unbiased is possibly best and leaving enough space with your questions and answers so as you don't dictate solutions or form opinions. I am not especially good except sometimes at the silence part and I wouldn’t enforce thoughts.
So communication; it’s trying to meet in the middle and on the most fertile ground, though that ground is an oasis in more impoverished terrain.


Interviews with G and her son K

Nikky

This interview is with G, the mother of 11 year old K, who both live in Belgium. G answers first, then she gives a short introduction to K’s interview. I’d like to thank them both deeply, G for her honesty, and K for being willing and smart enough to speak to me in a language that is not his native tongue, and for mentioning poo!

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

Read him all i.e., his words are only part of a layer, don’t get stuck on what he says but read his whole being.

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

My ego, my inside monster, my need to control or help or be right or teach or show the best way, my way, can blast it’s way through me as a huge temper tantrum and a shout which squashes and squeeze K into a tight ball. Shut up G. Listen. Go for a walk with or without him if the need to meddle becomes too strong to swallow.

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

Practising feeling my instincts and acting on them with my brain. The heart is a good ruler and the brain is great guide. Not the other way round.

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

On the understanding that K is sensitive, meaning that everything he is presented with and bumps up against goes in deep and far but because he is shy and not a chatter it can get stuck, risking going rotten and bad and eating him up from the inside. He needs to learn what his out lets are, whatever they are, as long as they let the crap out and the good can turn to good lessons learn. K and me go out a lot together. Walking, bike riding, running, to theatre, to see an art exhibition and mostly he’s pretty dry and unenthusiastic about all but it does the job and lets off steam. K and me got out together to make our relationship move. Sometimes is moves backwards, sideways and explodes and sometimes magically moves on.My greatest fear is that our relationship gets stuck. The ebb and flow is everything, there is no blue print, there is no other example to follow, although these roles that we are in are older than the mountains but is not a solid thing.

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

I plan in my head for the day he refuses to go out with me. I train my brain to say that if I have passed on to him good handy tools with which to manage his anger, fear and joy then this is time to let go….. ah!….. and do the things that I have not done for years because I have so busy with K. K will come back, sporadically, and I need to now start practising enjoying seeing him grow up and away from us. Ideally. The reality is less hippy though.

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

Doing nothing with him i.e.: sitting down with him, for as long as I can, without my agenda interrupting what happens next. He is the leader. Very different from being available. Hanging out and letting it all hang out until it stops, is doing nothing to make something happen. Being available is already doing something to make time for something to happen.

G adds: -
K is sensitive, which is deeply misunderstood. He was extremely shy, also very misunderstood. He’s not a chatterbox, and he’s a boy whose happy place is home, and at home, and in his home in his pyjamas with a book all day at home, inside, please….. or on stage. His language and academic learning skills are, well, less, while his emotional maturity, his social skills and practical side is maturing and blooming very nicely thank-you. He doesn’t eat sweets, but does like a good strawberry tart.

• What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

It’s a hard question for me, I can’t really think. Nothing really pops up in my head I don’t think there’s a lot really that adults annoy me most.

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

If they talk to me, I like them to be a bit interesting and a bit nice. That’s how I like it. Polite and kind. Some people in my school are not really like that.

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

What I like is that you are still young and you can…ja…you have your whole life still, if you are young.


What I don’t like - you’re a bit small. I mean I’m 11 but I am smaller than some people that are 10 years old. But I’m not the smallest.

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

Sometimes I find it easy, sometimes not - ja, it hangs over but…sometimes with my mum it’s a bit hard to get a.. sometimes for me it’s hard for me to talk with grown-ups, but most of the time it’s easy to talk with grown-ups. It’s hard to explain actually. It’s hard for me to know why. When I meet a grown-up I know really quickly if I like them or not.

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

It’s quite easy to talk with other children, but of course there are some kids who are a bit mean to me, so sometimes I am able to play other games with other kids - but not football cos I’m not really into football. But yes - with other kids I like. I like playing handball, I think you call it in English, and I like basketball, and other games, but those are the two main ones. My friends and I, when we spend time together, we talk a lot.

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

I don’t think they understand me so well, because my English and my Flemish are not so good. Also I had something very bad wrong with my ears when I was younger. They understand me quite easily, but in the end it’s quite hard to understand me sometimes. It’s difficult to say why.

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

Sometimes I have to show them with my hands or with my face what do I mean or stuff I am saying.

• Would you say you are a happy person?

I’m mostly a happy person. What makes me unhappy? If a person goes in front of me then I don’t really say to them, I just let them be or if I get a bit cross with them, I just walk away and play with someone else or talk with someone else.
What is the thing in the world that makes you feel best, what’s the thing that really makes you feel good?
If people are quite happy, and….I can’t really find the word…if people are like really patient with the world, like if they see something on the floor, like poo. Where we live there’s a lot of poo on the ground and we don’t like clearing it up. We think that if their dog poos on the ground then people should pick it up.


Make the world nice for one another.

Interviews with Siblings M and L

Nikky

I received these responses from M, a 14 year old girl, and L, her brother who has just turned 9. My thanks to M and L, who completed the written questionnaires independently, M writing down L's answers. M's are the first set.

What really winds you up about how adults speak to you?

When they jump to assumptions and don't listen to the whole story.


This means they can't see the bigger picture and fully understand everything.

What do you really like when being addressed by an adult?

When they treat you like a peer rather than a child. If I am spoken to by an adult I can sometimes feel under minded or overlooked.

Is there anything you would change about how young people are treated in society, if so what?
Not necessarily but I do think that all children should be treated the same no matter how privileged they are. No one should be treated like less.

Do you find it easy or difficult to communicate with grown-ups, and why?
Depending on the subject I can find it easy with some grown ups but not all understand. For example you can't talk to your teachers the same way you would with your mum.

What about other age groups of children?
Sometimes speaking to older people (17-20ish) is easier as they have more experience but not so much that it's overwhelming and non relatable.

Do you think adults understand you? Why / why not?
Not all the time because times have changed so much since they were little that they can't always properly relate to the situation. Like cyber bullying for example, no adults can really relate to the way that makes you feel or how to resolve it because they never went through it.

What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to communicate with children?

-they should treat you as a peer
-they should listen to the entire story
-they shouldn't assume things

What question do you think should be on this list? How would you answer it?
Who would you first turn to in a bad situation and why?

My mum as I don't have many close friends and it's important you can talk to your parents.

What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

If they treat you unfairly.

How do you like a grown-up to be when they speak to you?
Kind, generous.

What is good and what is bad about being a child? Good-you get more presents.
Bad-you have no control (not in charge).

Do you find it easy or difficult to talk with grown-ups, and why?
Difficult because you can't speak back the same way they speak to you.

Is it easy or difficult for you to speak with other children?
Easy because they're just like me and they're not in charge of me.

Do you think adults understand you? Why / why not?
Sometimes because they don't always know what I'm trying to say.

What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to talk to children?
Don't speak with rude words or shout.


Interview with SEN Head Teacher Chris Pollitt.

Nikky

This interview is with Chris Pollitt who is Head Teacher at Brooke School, a Special Education facility in Rugby. If you'd like to find out more about the school, you can do so here: http://www.brookeschool.co.uk

What is your underlying philosophy when it comes to communicating with children?

There are three aspects to my underlying philosophy - I'm going to do them in reverse order actually.

There needs to be a desire, for children, they need to want to communicate, they need to be able to say that actually, if I communicate this, my life's going to change so much. The phrase is, developing the 'Emotional Regulation' so that the child can see the benefits of communication. So they can actually think, "I can see a benefit, I can see a joy, I can see that this is going to make me feel so much happier - and actually it's going to help me deal with the feeling not so happys too."

We need to give the skills to communicate, whether it's through verbal communication or a range of different ways, we need to have a strategy, to identify for the children what the strategies are. The most important thing we need to do though is that we need to be receptive to communication, and the phrase, I believe, is 'Transactional Support'. If a child wants to communicate, if a child is using all the strategies they can, both the ones they're taught and the ones they pick up themselves, then we've got to be receptive to it. If we can master that, then that's how communication happens.

So I think it comes down to the Social Communication Strategies, the Emotional Regulation and the Transactional Support, and I think that’s it. It’s not just about giving the skills, it’s about does the child want to communicate, making them sure that communication can bring so much to them, and then the other thing is being receptive to those communications. It might not be with symbols, but every single time they want to communicate, we respond.

In the years that you have spent finding effective ways to communicate with children, what would be your number one tip?

Respond. Absolutely response. Whatever a child does, however they do it, whatever the observable phenomena, it’s a level of communication. There’s a phrase which - before I started Headship - it’s linked to the FISH philosophy, which says, “Be there.” So the biggest, the bottom line, with the symbols, the signs, the language they use… it's actually being responsive. Whatever that child does, be responsive and acknowledge that communication. It’s the only tip.

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

It’s gone horribly wrong when I’ve felt and thought that the source of success in communication was just giving children the strategy. That’s when it goes wrong, it goes wrong not just for me, it goes wrong for everyone. So when we say, actually, we want this child to communicate, we’re going to give them symbols, we’re going to give them picture exchange, but we’re not going to in any way respond to them appropriately and we’re not going to in any way actually help them to be in the right place to communicate, that’s when it goes horribly wrong, because what happens then is that the child learns to hate to communicate, and they think that actually it’s more stress to communicate than if they just keep it to themselves. “What’s the point… what’s the point because I’m communicating now and I’m being told off for it. I’m communicating now and nobody’s responding to it. I’m communicating now and actually they’re not understanding at all because they’re not giving me the time to respond."

Are there any rules that encompass all age groups - if not what are the differences?

In the context of Special Education, I think 'age' is a misleading word, I think it’s probably more conceptual. I think that in conceptual groups, common factors are, as I’ve said before, a willingness to respond - and a willingness to observe as well. We almost adopt, sometimes, a textbook approach to communication - I’ve never read a textbook that encompasses all conceptual groups. It is about observation, it’s about responding, and I think that’s the key in all year groups. There are differences in conceptual stages, and that’ll come as the child develops those communication strategies, but the essence is always the same. We want to communicate, we’ve got to communicate, we’ve got to be models of communication, we’ve got to respond to communication, so when it comes down to the bottom line - that’s it.

If you could make one cultural change with a click of your fingers with relation to children, what would it be?
Just the one?!! I think there’s a lack of understanding. I think especially, there’s a lack of understanding that mental health is for all age ranges, you could have a toddler with mental health issues, but actually we assume that only adults suffer with it, but put that on a child…. the baggage that children have to carry these days - well most adults would collapse. So I think, if I wanted to make a cultural change, that actually when people are making judgements about children’s behaviour, I’d say well actually no, tell yourself, "I need to understand this more." The cultural change would be doing more to understand, and finding time to understand - it goes back to what I said before about observing and responding to children. So a cultural change - more understanding.

Something else, I love this, I share this with visitors, it’s about the notion of play.

There’s so much done, everyone says children should play through primary, they should play, they should play, they should play - then teenagers, not allowed to play. "Grow up!" Then you get to adulthood, and companies spend billions on the benefits of play for adults, but at the most crucial time for emotional well-being, it’s prohibited to play. When actually, for me, teenage years are the years where all the play has to go to - because play incurs such a therapeutic process - and actually I think that’s difficult. I think Vanessa (Deputy Head) said before that trying to explain to parents the benefits of playing is actually quite difficult, but play will help children to become strong members of society.

It’s amazing - in primary you do so much stuff around role play, you have your corners and everything, about developing early real life skills, they're developing themselves. Then all of a sudden, STOP, sit down at a desk and I’m going to teach you stuff that will never, ever be used in your life, I’m going to teach you how to sit at a desk for six hours a day. So I think it’s that lack of understanding, and I think we’ve got to be faithful to what children need rather than what a textbook, or what a curriculum says from thirty years ago. It’s what children need now and a child of today is very different from a child of 1988, that’s when I was in school myself and I think the reality of... it seems a very distant reality. For some reason we’re not understanding children as much as we used to - well, I don’t think we even used to, I just think children have so many different pressures now.

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

I think you probably covered it in the first one, with the philosophy of communication. I’m always interested in what people’s beliefs are, if you stripped it down and took communication out, what the world would look like.

Next week, I'll be publishing a similar interview with answers given by a couple young people, the contrast and matches with Chris's responses is quite interesting!