Monday, November 28, 2011

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You (Cleveland Post, October 6, 2011)

Parent -child communication is a truly fascinating thing, if you stop and think about it.

When they are babies, the conversation revolves around food, comfort, security. They fuss, we check to see which end needs attention. Fed, snuggled or freshly diapered, the fussing stops, everybody's happy. Words are not necessary, but Mama and Daddy talk anyway because, well, that's what humans do.

And, miraculously, children learn those words. "Mama," "Daddy," "blankie," "cookie." As their bodies learn to toddle, their mouths and brains develop, and they learn to say them in a manner increasingly recognizable to the general population.

At first, children seem truly delighted to have figured out how communication works. Daddy says "Bring me the ball" and daughter excitedly picks it up and carries it to him. Daddy says, "Thank you!" Daughter claps and laughs. She is on the same page as Daddy, they have had a complete interaction, carried out to everybody's satisfaction.

Life is good.

But it is not linear, at least from a parent's perspective. Mama and Daddy want the lessons to proceed such that more complex instructions are given, more complicated tasks are completed with everybody laughing and clapping at the end. Ha.

Because it seems that the next lesson learned has more to do with binary logic, those ones and zeros of our digital age: yes or no. Having demonstrated to themselves they can do what Mama or Daddy ask, doing it is no longer that much fun. They learn to say "no."

Mama and Daddy make funny faces and noises when that happens!

Children want to learn logic? Mama and Daddy are glad to oblige. "You may have desert, but you have to finish your peas first."

It is not always pleasant but progress advances on this front, too. The stubbornness and disobedience get boring - or, at least, unprofitable- and they move on to something else.

In my experience, there are occasional phases in which children really want to help. And they are helpful. They are learning what its like to be part of a team and it's fun. (Enjoy them while they last!)

If a child has heard any lectures about setting an example for their younger siblings, opportunities that involve helping Mama while showing up said siblings have particular appeal.

But somewhere along the line what I call the Lawyer Function of the brain begins to develop in earnest. Communication deteriorates. Maybe it has something to do with going to school, with all those behavior rules and classroom procedures to learn. And there are all those reminders, "Follow instructions carefully."

Maybe its just that after more than eight hours of being cooperative, attentive, and obedient, the child has had it. Or maybe its just a coincidence.

Whatever the reason, chores down proudly by a toddler become just too much for an older child.

Mama: "Pick up those shoes!"

Child: (groans and picks up shoes, moves them randomly - perhaps even to the proper room, then puts them down.)

Thirty minutes later, Mama trips over the shoes again.

Mama: Come pick up these shoes!

Child: "I did pick them up!"

Mama: "Put them away!"

Child: "Jeez, why didn't you say that?"

Jeez, indeed.

So, as all parents must do, you adjust.

Mama: "Pick up your shoes. Very good. Now, take them to your room and put them in your closet. Don't forget to close the closet door."

Child: "Quit telling me what to do!"


The thing is, the solution is really quite simple.

Mama: "If you did what I told you to the first time, then the four reminders it usually takes to get the job done would go away! That's an 80% reduction in nagging!"

And, if you sense the presence of a "teachable moment," you can kick it up to the next level and really blow their minds:

Mama: "Of course, if you do your chores without being reminded, I won't have to tell you what to do at all. Isn't that what you want?"

Child: (stunned silence).

So obvious.


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