Interviews with S and W and their children M and L
This interview is an absolute doozy! It was recorded with parents S and W sitting round the table with daughter M,12 and son L,9. There's a real sense of the truly honest family vibe, and I thank them wholeheartedly for their contribution to the project.
The children's responses are first, and the parents follow. Both have very natural interruptions from one another. They're a joy:
M and L's responses to S and W questioning:
• What really winds you up about how adults speak to you?
L - They’re BOSSY! They boss you to do work around the house and stuff.
M - When they correct the way that you speak, so if you’re saying ‘Haitch’ “It’s ‘Aitch’ not ‘Haitch’” That winds me up, because I say it ‘Haitch’. And pronouncing my Ts as well.
S - And what kind of adults do that in your life?
M - Teachers and Grandparents.
S - Anything else?
L - They’re just always…like…you get a question wrong and they’re like, “NO…wrrroooarr!”
S - Which adults do that?
L - Teachers who don’t have any patience.
M - Sometimes when you’ve done something wrong..they’re not angry, they don’t shout..they are disappointed. And their voice goes down and it’s just…the raise of their eyebrows as well.. and you feel like you’ve done something terrible.
S and W - Ah! So is there something about tone of voice?
M - Whether they’re higher or lower depends on how well you’ve done. So if they go higher that means that you’ve done something good, if they go lower it means you’ve done something terrible.
• What do you really like when being addressed by an adult?
L - When they’re PROUD of you.
S - Do they use different words?
L - Yes. Like ‘Woohoo’ ‘You’ve done it’ or something.
M - When they’re, like, being funny, their voice changes again and it’s kind of…it’s just the way they change their voice.. really depends on how it makes you feel, so sometimes if it’s like mhrrrr, “How did the chicken cross the road?” Rubbish…it’s just the way it sounds, just makes you laugh a bit more.
S - So you like it when adults laugh with you.
M - Yes.
L - But not against you.
• Is there anything you would change about how young people are treated in society, if so what?
M - More trust.
L - Yeah!
M - Not blaming everything on young people. Like - ‘Graffiti! Must be the young people’
L - It could be a hipster dad or something
M - Them being able to plan their life out straight away, so, that expectation of when you come out of school or education, they’re like, “I know what I’m going to do.”
L - and, you have to go to that particular school
S - Do you feel that there’s a pressure being put on you to go to a particular school?
M and L - Yes.
M - Definitely - and to do your A Levels well, get A*s, GCSEs, stuff like that.
S - Who does that come from, that pressure?
L - You.
M - Oh that definitely comes from the school. They’re like, “Look, we’ve got a standard, we’ve got an average of As. I feel like if I do bad then I’m letting everyone down in my life, and that just pressures me to do extremely well in my classes, and if I get, like a mark down then I feel, I feel TERRIBLE. I’m like, “Oh I’m not as good as everybody else”, and it just hurts a bit.
S - Leo, What does it feel like to be a child?
L - I feel like I’m just an ant in the world, some people don’t listen to me that well…they just trail off. Like nothing that I’m saying is important. It can be teachers, parents, grandparents.
S - What’s good about being a child?
M - Exploring the world?
L - You can EXPLORE the world. You can LIVE. You can, like, jump around and no-one would care ‘cos you’re a child. If you did that and you’re an adult, and you’re, like, a businessman… it’d be like Oh My God!!
M - Being able to change your mind a bit more. So if you go to one club and realise you don’t like it then you can always change, whereas… so we’re a bit more flexible, whereas adults, you know…it’s just a bit harder because.… It’s going to sound horrible but….
L - Cos they’re OLD!
M - …their bodies aren’t as adaptable as ours
L - and they’re old.
• Do you find it easy or difficult to communicate with grown-ups, and why?
M - It really depends. I have to have a…while to get to know them before I can fully trust them, but then there’s still a bit of a barrier, so it takes a while, about…a year sometimes, for me to fully trust them. With teachers I’m very quiet and I stay back a bit because, you know, I don’t want to be, like, too full on. I feel like that’s kinda…
L - Restricting you.
M - Yeah, I feel I’m being restricted
S - What about you L?
L - Difficult. Cos like I said before, some adults don’t listen to me.
• What about other children - of the same age?
M - It’s easy, because they understand everything, so they understand the pressure of being a young person in modern day life - exam stresses, stuff like that.
L - It depends. You’ve got to take a day to know them. If they’re bad….well…say Goodbye to you Dude! Then if they’re good - stick with them. It’s easier than adults by far, ‘cos they actually listen, ‘cos they understand us.
S - Okay. What about children of other ages?
L - If they’re a child then it would be quite easy.
M - It’s easier to talk to younger children because they don’t understand as much, and you can kind of let yourself be a bit, quite free - and you can just go back to when you were quite young. So you can just be really childish, especially from like year one and year two, you can be crazy with them and be like, “Guess what, we’re going to be a flying lion and tiger!” And stuff like that, and it refreshes you a bit more and you’re like…stuff like school doesn’t matter…and then you go back to school and it’s like, “Oh actually it does… quite a lot”
S - and what about older children?
M and L - Oooooooo!
L - If they’re near like a teen, if they’re a teenager, I would say, “Stay Back!” Teenagers get very angry.
M - I think teenagers are quite… difficult to talk to, cos they’re quite restricted, but if it’s someone younger……Yes, so younger people are easier to talk to. Older people are just, yeah, try and stay back a bit more because they’re going to be restricted and not want to open up as much.
• Do you think adults understand you? Why / why not?
L - Sometimes. It depends on the situation. If you are tired, then the adults would understand because they’ve been tired before.
M - I don’t think adults understand it..us..because we’re going through a different generation. There’s better technology, there’s horrible stuff going on and we just, we have our own thoughts and people can’t just enter our mind and we can’t just go out spilling our guts to everyone. So, they don’t understand us at all…at all. They can…like know how we’re feeling like sad, angry, happy, scared, stuff like that..
L - Yeah, but that’s understanding.
M - It’s not, understanding is when you can… when they can empathise with you..
L - They can
M - ..and adults just can’t do that now. They haven’t grown up with mobile phones. So we can text our friends, but they don’t know that feeling of when you’re in a group chat and you don’t want to leave just in case somebody says something about you. So .. messages, groups, it’s a ridiculous amount of notifications that then you don’t want to leave just because somebody might say something about you.
L - Yeah but you can always read it back.
M - That’s why you don’t leave..because you can’t see anything that goes on after you’ve left.
• What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to communicate with children?
L - Listen! It’s a tip.
M - Not to say, “ Oh, I understand.” So if you like hurt yourself, don’t be like, “Oh, I can SO empathise with you because that’s happened to me.” But it might just feel totally different. The amount of people that you’ve got who…if you say something about yourself, like ..um..“curtains are better than blinds” people would be like, “I agree on that”. But you might have a total different reason behind that, you can’t just say, “Omigosh! That was exactly what I was thinking.”
S - So how can adults get better at communicating with children?
L - LISTEN!!!
M - You need to listen and…
L - Communicate
S - Yeah but how?
L - Listening and communicating together equals bonding.
M - Not trying to put words into our mouths. Let us be our own people, cos we’re…different. We’re unique people, and people need to allow that, and let that be expressed through their own way.
• What question do you think should be on this list? How would you answer it?
L - That they should listen.
M - The difference between adults talking to adults and children talking to children.
L - It should be children talking to adults, adults talking to children, children talking to children, adults talking to adults… like a mixed group.
S - I would say, do you feel that you have enough time to talk to adults?
L - Nope! Sometimes they just force us to do stuff
M - I think that because they think that we’re children we always have to be moving, and so, if we meet someone, there always has to be an activity to do ….because children can talk, children can hold a conversation, it’s not like because we grow up with phones and TVs, that we just can’t talk.
L and M - We can.
M - I think talking is better than being on your phone, but a lot of things just kind of make us just want to go back to phones.
The children M and L then interview parents S and W:
• What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned so far with regards to communicating with your children?
S - To Listen!
W - One of the most difficult things I’ve found was actually realising that this person in my life..maybe my child, or it may be our child.. that actually, they’re their own person as well, with their own mind and their own thoughts. It’s not a little me and it’s not a little you, it’s somebody who’s completely independent and with their own thoughts and their own feelings and trying to help them navigate through all of those feelings, I think is quite tricky as well. That’s what I’ve learned.
S - I have learned….I often hope that I try and listen, but I know that I always try and ‘fix’ you, and I try and give you solutions to your problems and maybe not give you enough space to kind of work it out for yourselves, I always kind of feel like I need to jump in and help you
L - You need to give us space so we can breathe and…
S - But sometimes when you’re having problems with friends, I like to refer to how I was with my friends and sort of give you advice and maybe…
L - But we’re in a different situation.
S - Possibly…um….yeah…I, I.. yeah…
• When has it all gone horribly wrong for you, and what did you do to fix it?
W - I had two children!! .. and I stopped having more!
S - I think there have been times, since Mae, you have become an older sort of little person, and have turned into a medium sized person, I think it is trying to help you deal with problems with your friends, when I’ve felt really out of control and helpless, and I think there was one situation where all I wanted to do was to get on the phone to the parents of those children and try and sort it out, and say, “C’mon! Everyone’s being silly!” and I did step back and just let it be and let you work your way through it, but offered you love and support to do that. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, but I felt very out of control in that situation, and I tried to listen but it was really hard for me to understand how you were feeling.
W - I think the biggest mistake that I regularly make is possibly bringing home the issues that I may have had during the day or it’s Sunday night and I’m about to go and teach year one and two in Staffordshire, and my whole Sunday is ruined because I’m starting to think about the journey and having to deal with that information, so in that situation. So - I think outside influences influencing and dictating my behaviour towards my children and my family.
• What is the personal trait you mostly rely upon in your relationships with your children?
S - Honesty. Absolute honesty - I don’t …and I’ve always said that I will try and share everything with you, even if it’s hard, I want you to know the truth about things, I don’t want you to feel that you live in a world which is separate to mine, I don’t want you to think that I don’t have real feelings like you do, so I think that honesty is the trait and the value that I want to share with my children.
W - For me it’s humour…um.. I think that to be able to laugh at this world that we live in is really important. But it’s also quite difficult because I have a little boy in my life who sometimes gets very, very angry and frustrated at the world when it doesn’t go his way. And, I try to joke with him and play with him and at those times he has no sense of humour, so I think humour is really important. That’s the trait that I rely on, and I know, M, that you have a very, very good sense of humour.
• What is your greatest fear for future communications with your children?
S - That we stop being able to communicate honestly. My fear is that I stop being able to have open and honest communications with my child. I would hate to think that either of them would hide something from me that was seriously effecting their lives - am making them very unhappy, or if they were in a situation where they felt that they were out of control and they didn’t have a way to communicate that to me.
W - One thing that I absolutely hate about my children is the fact that they are both very proud, and they get that from me… and they’re very stubborn which is what they get from me and I would hate for that trait to get in the way of our relationship…and…if..any of us made a mistake, that we would be big enough and brave enough to see through our pride, through our stubbornness and our inability to forgive and forgive and love each other.
L - We can forgive!
• Do you have strategy for this? If not, what would help?
S - I do not have a strategy for my biggest fear. I’m hoping that the foundations that I lay now, in our honest conversations with each other and not being afraid to ask questions where I know I might not be able to deal with the answer might pave the way for being able to have open and honest conversations later - especially where you make mistakes or you get yourself involved in situations where you feel very vulnerable. I want to have already been through similar experiences with you, so that you feel that I can help in some way. Even if it is just a shoulder to cry on, even if it is someone to shout and scream at. I don’t ever want you to feel that you are alone, without someone to talk to to help your problems. So I’m hoping that the strategy is, that I’ve already put into place the kind of open communications that I want to have with you as you grow up.
W - I am such a bad parent… I don’t know … I don’t know whether I had kids too young.. but I don’t have any strategies. I often find that I just drift from one day to another, and I hope that I make the right decision for the right reason, when it comes up. I have you, S, and you tell me to stop being proud and . . .
S - . . . so horribly controlling
L - He has a MASSIVE ego!
W - As you can see I have no strategy to deal with anything about my kids.
S - Do you know what you can do? You can go back to what you said earlier - you have humour - and the fact that we can allow our children to take the mickey out of us and they see us as human because we have a sense of humour with them. We don’t set ourselves on a pedastal, so, I think that is the way that you deal with it.
W - I think my job as a dad, or just as a parent, is to make sure that the kids or the young people that live with me are nice people. Because eventually they’re going to have to move out and they’re going to have to live with other people, and they’re going to have to engage with other people and interact with other people, and if they’re an idiot, or if they’re somebody who I don’t like, then other people aren’t going to like them, and my job is to try and make sure that they are likeable people - and I think that’s really, really important.
• When has it all gone wonderfully right, and why do you think that was?
S - I think this is a wonderfully right situation where we can involve our children in having quite a sophisticated conversation and that they contribute and that they both feel confident enough to actually have an opinion that they can share with us.
W - I think that whenever we go away or go and see friends or family and we go to somewhere like that and the kids show how great they are, I’m always immensely proud. Often when we come home, we have to pay the price for it as they incredibly tired from being well behaved and everything… but actually I think that what’s really, really important is for them to hear how proud I am of them, as young people.
S - Aaaaah!
L - Cos we’re super amazing!!
S - And who’s got the biggest ego?!
W - And I’m immensely happy and proud they take after me so much and not their mother!
S - OOOOH!
• What question do you think should be on this list?
S - I think it’s something that is really interesting - but I know Nikky’s research is already doing it - where it’s looking at how your communication with your child changes through their ages, and I think we’re going through an enormous change at the moment as our children evolve into a much older age, where we’re having much more adult conversations, and they understand so much more of what we’re saying. We can’t sit in the car and talk about any old thing - because you always are listening. Or we can’t listen to things on the radio that are inappropriate because you understand and you listen and you ask questions, whereas when you were a tiny weeny weeny weeny baby… at the time I could just watch whatever, say whatever, because…no, that sounds really awful… but the baby..
M - Irresponsible mother!
W - Well, no, because…
S - It’s like, so… “How does your communication with your child as they grow up?” That would be a question.
W - Yeah. I think that’s really important - how can you… What are those things stopping you from communicating as well..?
S - What are the barriers?
W - I was just thinking.. You know, I hate the fact that the phones are out so often, I hate the fact that the tablets…
S - But, it’s not just the kids exclusively, it’s you as well..
W - I was just going to say, that it’s not just them, it’s me, it’s this fear..
S - And me
W - It’s the outside world and this fear that we might be missing something or that we always have to be on the go, and..
S - But the other thing I like about the phones is that it isn’t a completely isolating thing - would you say? I mean we share a lot, we share things that we find on the internet or we share games..
L - Yeah!
S - ..and I think that sometimes our own phones have been something that’s brought us together like when we share something or we’re really excited..
M - .. And sharing videos with each other that we can remember, so things like Timehop, when you have a photo from like eight years ago when Leo was in my push-chair..
W - ..and he was wearing a tutu..
S - ..and doing the Lion King..
M - ..and I was pushing him around the house. That would be something that would bring us all together and we could be like, “Oh I remember that day.”