Interviews with F and His Parents
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?
*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?
*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.