Interviews with B, her Daughter N and son S
Here the responses are from mum B, then daughter N aged 9 and son S who is 7 and on the autistic spectrum.
• What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned so far with regards to communicating with your children?
To be consistent and fair. And to admit if you're wrong. The relationship between my kids and I has benefitted from the fact that they can see that adults don't always get it right too, and that getting something wrong isn't the end of the world. Also, allowing them to finish what they are saying and encouraging turn-taking in conversation has been useful. Also making time to communicate face to face - at the dinner table, on a walk - just talking. And learning to listen. Quite often the kids are trying to tell you something, but disguise it as something else. I feel it's my job to try to get to the crux of the problem for my kids if they'll allow me too. Also, encourage them to speak in depth with other trusted adults. Our kids have lost a young cousin in the last year and at times have worried about talking to us about it, as its painful for us too, but they have spoken in depth to Aunties and Grandparents.
• When has it all gone horribly wrong for you, and what did you do to fix it?
Take a deep breath and start again. Calm down and remember that you are the adult! Don't be afraid of saying you took the wrong approach, but move on positively.
• What is the personal trait you mostly rely upon in your relationships with your children?
Listening, empathy and sense of humour!
• What is your greatest fear for future communications with your children?
That I will lose that open conversation. That they will not share real fears or worries as they are older and get into inappropriate or precarious communications online. Especially with Stan as he will be a vulnerable adult.
• Do you have strategy for this? If not, what would help?
We talk openly. I ask questions. We already talk of the 'issues' of online communication rather than the dangers as they will need to use this medium. But also reiterate that they can tell me anything, no matter how terrible they think it is. They are my children and I want them to know I'm aways there for them.
• When has it all gone wonderfully right, and why do you think that was?
Listening. Making time. Being honest and also using physical affection as and when needed. Also, especially in a disciplinary conversation explaining why.
• What question do you think should be on this list?
Maybe discuss physical communication. With Stan, this was particularly useful, i.e. signing. And also the use of physical affection to confirm what you are communicating. Both my kids benefit from this.
and now N and S:
• What annoys you about how adults speak to you?
N - When people are really loud. When they just talk to you, just before they shout at you. Why can't they just shout at you first and get it over with. Then they just carry on with the situation after they've shouted and you just want it finished and done. And when they use fancy words that you can't understand.
S - Only when they're angry. I only understand the second time someone says something. But I don't want them to repeat it too many times.
• How do you like a grown-up to be when they speak to you?
N - When you don't have to make eye contact. When they talk to you for your appropriate age, not in a baby voice. They ask about your day, ask about how you're feeling and dig deeper into your personality.
S - Nice, that's all.
• What is good and what is bad about being a child?
N - Sometimes older people don't give 7 to 11 year olds much attention; it’s all about the younger ones. When you're at the supermarket and your parent meets someone and they just keep talking. Good things are when you make really good friends and have a really good time. When I talk and feel listened to some of the time, but it depends on who you're with and what you're talking about.
S - Good as I'm little and I won't like it when I'm tall, because I like being tiny.
• Do you find it easy or difficult to talk with grown-ups, and why?
N - In the middle because some grown ups you can just talk to and others you feel really shy with and you can't talk at all.
S - I like speaking to grown ups because I like how they speak, its nice. I like talking to grown ups.
• Is it easy or difficult for you to speak with other children?
N - It depends. If it's someone you know and have known for a long time it's easy. But if it is someone you've just met, especially if they're older, it can feel intimidating and you don't want to talk.
S - I can get shy with some children sometimes. I like speaking to people I know. I don't want to go near new people.
• Do you think adults understand you? Why / why not?
N - Adults don't exactly understand because sometimes when you're feeling one way they don't understand or get it. Then that makes you feel that emotion more. Then when they ask you why you feel that way you just can't explain. And also when you're talking about something they don't keep track and you end up talking about something different. But adults do understand you a lot of the time. It's occasions that they don't.
S - I think they do sometimes.
• What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to talk to children?
N - Not to use baby language on older children. Not to carry on about something that happened a long time ago. And use words that children will understand and don't be too loud.
S - Use words that I understand and talk normally.