What Did You Say?!!

Feb 17, 2018

We all have memories of secrets hidden from our parents and other grown-ups, of wanting to mark out the territories in our lives where they were not allowed to go. Sometimes these can be physical spaces, whether a private meeting place or a den or the sacred inner sanctum of a teenager’s bedroom, and sometimes the boundaries are more conceptual.

Language serves this purpose beautifully. In the past, youngsters have used back-slang, pig latin and other fabulously creative inventions to be able to communicate in ways that they suppose adults cannot understand (forgetting that they were once kids too!). I have known groups of children construct highly complex language codes which could be spoken and written fluently by the chosen few.

Every youth sub-culture in our past has had it’s own idiomatic style, from hep cats to mods, to punks, to rude boys to yardies. Each generation will throw up a selection of tribal alternatives for us to explore in the search for our own individual identity. So I wonder why each generation continues to be appalled by the linguistic trends of the next?

These days of course, the tut-tutting can happen across several media. Not only do we give our youngsters a hard time about the way they speak to each other, but we can also badger them about sloppy use of language in texts or lazily doing away with words altogether in favour of emojis.

I think we should have a little more faith. Of course there are a few individuals who hang on to the vernacular of their youth, but most of us just grow up. I trust that our youngsters are smart enough to know the difference between communicating with their peers and when the situation calls for something a little more formal. The shift in language to accommodate speedy texting is hugely creative problem solving - after all language is a changing, morphing thing - and I get quite excited about the role that emojis can play in including our ever increasing population with many and varied learning disabilities. Slang serves the purpose of a tribal badge of identity, it shows you’re one of the gang, distinguishes you as part of the crowd, and keeps the unwanted excluded. This has been the case throughout history.

So much of being a young person is trying to find your place, wanting to fit in. What your friends think of you is pretty much the most important thing in the world, and that depends on your ever developing sense of self and your place in the social hierarchy. Identity is something that is forever shifting and morphing, it’s not a static state, but the sense of it being something secure, a core of being able to rely on and be certain of is exactly what our young people are trying to achieve.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is just: Don’t Panic! Let them communicate in ways that might offend your ears and eyes, don’t butt in, certainly don’t try to join in - but do try to include them in your big grown-up conversations too - however they choose to express them, their opinions do matter.

I'm Late, I'm Late ...

Feb 10, 2018

I recently read someone saying that they were late all the time, but that they didn’t mind that, because it meant that whoever they were meeting was already there.

It made me re-think my own ideas about lateness.

I’ve always been an obsessively punctual person, preferring to be an hour early, rather than risk being ten minutes late. From I know not where I seem to have been brought up to believe that lateness is at least a little rude and at worst inconsiderate and selfish (although I should point out that I have several friends who are habitually tardy, and I do not love them any less for it - at least they are consistent).

However, it suddenly struck me that perhaps the lateness habit has its roots in a kind of insecurity. Perhaps those of us who can never be on time are, in fact, terrified by the prospect of having to spend time alone waiting for their fellow meetee. Even in these days of having the means to occupy and distract ourselves permanently on our person, it can be daunting, especially in a public place, to be solitary. Without any control over when this state of affairs will cease.

So then I got to thinking about applying this premise to the behaviours of children. Could it be possible that we misunderstand certain disruptive behaviours as sheer bloody mindedness, when in fact they hide deep seated insecurities?

In schools, I have known children who seem totally unable to adhere to schedules and timetables, but perhaps this is because on arrival they need to see others in the place where they should be, to reassure them that they’re in the right place at more or less the right time, rather than be the first to arrive and have to deal with questioning themselves as to whether they’ve understood and correctly followed the instructions.

It may be that this is another example of us assuming that our children have the same faculties as adults, and that their shortcomings are equitable with those of ourselves.

We all know the awkwardness of being the first to arrive at the party, imagine how much more exaggerated experiences similar to this must be for little ones, especially the shy ones and those a little lacking in self confidence.

The same may be true of their parents.

So, I’m trying to train myself to be less judgemental, and to try to find the time to have a conversation with those children, to find out if it’s possible to use this aspect of our social mores to help them overcome their insecurities and have more faith in themselves and their abilities.

Interviews with adults M and P, and young boys E and L.

Feb 03, 2018

The last in this series of interviews is with Mum M, her son E who is 10 with his friend L who's 9 and P's son, and finally M's boyfriend P, who is not E's father. The family are German and live in Germany. Once again I am hugely grateful for their input and honesty.

THE FIRST ANSWERS ARE FROM M:

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

Children also hear all the things you don’t say. They are so sensible. So it’s not only important, what you say to a child, it’s also important how.


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

After his father and I broke up, it was hard for our son and every time I said something to him, about him not doing what he should or something he forgot, he just cried. He was so highly sensitive. His father always told him, he was not good enough and every time I said something negative, my son thought I thought the same way about him.

I told him, that my love is unconditional. And that its okay to cry. But just because I was saying something negative, my love does not change. A year later he can live with constructive criticism.


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

My son knows 100% that I got his back. And that his feelings always have a right to be.


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

That he will not talk to me, when he is in trouble. That he just doesn’t know how to address his feelings and instead of talking about that struggle, he will be silent.


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

I am constantly telling him, that I will NEVER turn my back on him. And even if he don't know why he is feeling the way he is feeling, he can talk to me and I will be there, never judging.


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

After his father and I broke up and he and his parents talked behind my back. My son told me about it and said, that HE KNOWS I love him and that its important, not to believe what they are saying, he is FEELING the truth. He knows I love him. I am telling and showing him every day.

NOW WE HEAR FROM E AND L:

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

Sometimes its hard, just to accept, that we don't have a say, when an argument is over. Adults just say no or yes and we have no say in it.


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

If they are nice and listen to us.


• Is there anything you would change about how young people are treated in society, if so what?

Sometimes we feel not taken seriously. It would be great, if we had more say in the things the adults decide.


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

Most of the time its easy. Sometimes its hard, because they just think they know everything better.


• What about other children - of the same age, and other ages?

That’s easy, if we like them.


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

Most of the time they understand us. But sometimes they think they know everything better then we do.


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

Be kind and friendly. And know that we have an opinion, as well.

FINALLY P GIVES HIS RESPONSES:

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

You have to be really careful with the soul of kids, cause things that we already considered being settled and done, leave deep marks inside the child.


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

I was really loud towards him, cause he did something bad.

My son told me afterwards he was scared of me.

I assured him, I would NEVER hurt him and I will ALWAYS love him. No matter what.


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

Giving love and security. Being loyal.


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

That he's not trusting me and therefore is keeping things to himself. That he is not aware of the fact, that I will always be there.

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

Always repeat and underline, that he can trust in me 100%.


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

He struggled, after the divorce of his mother and I. We sat with him and told him, we BOTH will be there for him. He felt secured and loved and got better.


Interviews with Dad S and son T aged 7

Jan 27, 2018

This week's interviews are the first I've published that are exclusively father and son. They are very succinct, honest and straight to the point. As ever I'm deeply grateful to them both for taking the time to participate.

FIRST WE HEAR FROM S...

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

The importance of listening and just being there for someone. More important than what you have to say to them.


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

The tough thing is keeping a hold on the aspects of your own personality that you feel are important in making you an inspiring character for your children to respect and love. Balancing this with wanting to be there for them 100%. Not losing these qualities as you become in many ways subservient to your family. It is an ongoing struggle. I haven’t fixed it really.


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

Humour.


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

That they will stop sharing their thoughts and feelings with me.


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

Other than trying to be there for them amongst all the distractions of daily life, no I’m afraid not. More money would help. So I didn’t have to work so much.


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

When we dance and sing. I can do these things with them easily as I haven’t really grown up properly myself.


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

Maybe something about how to help them understand the modern world honestly without scaring the shit out of them.


... AND NOW T'S ANSWERS...

• What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

When there’s a baby sister or someone that annoys you a lot and if she cries and points at you the adult might tell you off.


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

Kindly.


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

Good: Having lots of good friends. Not doing all the work.

Bad: Not choosing your food. Being told what to do.


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

Usually easy. Sometimes difficult like when you’re getting told off and you don’t actually wanna say that you did it.


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

Easy.


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

Yes. They usually know what you’re talking about.


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

Nicely.


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

I’ll tell you when I've thought of something.


Interviews with L and her daughter P who is 5.

Jan 20, 2018

This week's set of interview responses are from L and P who live in France. P is being brought up bi-lingually, but is perhaps more comfortable in French. So it's even more wonderful that she gives these beautifully honest answers in English. My sincere thanks go to both of them for their time and effort.

THE FIRST RESPONSES ARE FROM L, WHO HAD LIMITED TIME AT THE COMPUTER TO WRITE HER ANSWERS:

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

Realising how early they understand and how much more I could listen/be attentive/give time.

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

When I tried to 'do' anything with them without explaining first, not taking time for them to feel active in the family's events. And not listening to them. To fix it, I started again, explained, gave more choice/time, apologised a while after if an upset happened and I lost my temper. Try to watch the tone and volume I use and finding a way to say 'NO' as little as possible within a reasonable framework.

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

Attention to detail, understanding, remembering, keeping promises, self-care.

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

That all the communication mishaps will cumulate in them 'giving up' on me as an option to talk to resulting in THEM not listening and keeping secrets.

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

I talk to them about anything they ask about and don't pretend anything. I say a lot about my own feelings and show my imperfections. I admit when I make a mistake. I always tell them the truth relevant to their age (unless it would cause them too much distress).

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

When I listen. When their basic needs are taken care of. (Sleep, food, basic comfort).

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

What do you think your children would say about how you talk to them? How do your children speak to you (if older) and what does it reflect for you?

AND NOW WE HEAR FROM P, AS INTERVIEWED BY L:

• What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

When I’m punished.

-Who does that?

Mummy sometimes.

-Do I? (surprised)

P laughs

When they shout. When they punish me.

-Who punishes you?

Papa.

-What does he do?

He puts me on my own in my bedroom.

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

Nice. To be nice and not shout.

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

Good- Don’t know.

Bad - No.

(Prompted) I like to play…to dance.

-What kind?

Classic.

I like to go to school.

I don’t like when my little sister bites me.

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

Yes…difficult.

-Why?

Because…..because….sometimes I’m shy.

-Is it easy to talk to Mummy, Papa, Teacher?

Yes.

-Are there any grown-ups you find it difficult to talk to?

Yes - Mata.

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

No…it’s easy.

-Why?

They’re not like adults. Adults are a bit difficult.

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

Sometimes.

-Why?

I don’t know. It’s not all... Mummy does, Papa does, Pearl, Elsie…They understand me because they’re my family.

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

To talk nice.

-What would you teach them?

That when they’re cross to only talk to children, nicely.