[Portions reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon and other major retailers.]
She won’t share!
He took my crayon!
They won’t let me play with them!
He looked at me!
She poked me!
They’re jumping on the couch!
He won’t be my friend!
Few other things irritate adults as quickly at a tattle-tale. The kneejerk response is often “Stop tattling” or “Handle it yourself’ or even to punish the little tattler. But what is being communicated? What is a child actually trying to say when they tattle, and what is a child actually hearing by our response?
Tattling is, in effect, a child seeking wise counsel for a situation they don’t know how to handle. When faced with a conflict that just weeks or months earlier would have resulted in tears or snatching or hitting or some combination of all three, a child who has matured and begun to develop some self-control is learning to stop and think instead of just react. But what do they do if no solution presents itself? What if they’ve tried to reason or negotiate with the object of their conflict and been unable to come to a resolution?
What do adults do when they don’t know what to do? They either respond with maturity and seek out someone they respect and trust to help them deal with the situation, or they degenerate into chaotic emotions and resort to anger, power-plays, manipulation, etc. Often their response is influenced by their own childhood and how they were taught or not taught, as they case may be, to handle conflict.
When a child tattles, what they are actually doing is a rudimentary form of the advanced life skill of ‘Pause. Think. Respond.’ but they need help finding an appropriate and effective response. The child who seeks out an adult for guidance is indicating trust in the adult and respect for the adult’s opinions and abilities. If the adult reacts with irritation, “Stop tattling!” or rejection, “Handle it yourself!” or punishment, the child learns not to trust, not to seek guidance, and not to share struggles and problems with those entrusted with their care, a potentially dangerous mentality. In addition, an excellent teachable moment is lost.
When a child approaches a trusted adult with a problem, the child is saying, “This is important. Hear me. Help me.” This is a wonderful opportunity to guide the child through the process of conflict resolution. So often we relegate life skills such as conflict resolution to textbooks and worksheets, if we address them at all. But learning is far more powerful and effective if it is tied to real-life, real-time issues that are important to us, that impact our lives, that matter.
So how do we handle the kneejerk irritation response when confronted with a tattling child? First, tossing out the tattling label entirely helps to adjust our mindset and focus on the child’s need for guidance. We can rename it ‘sharing’ or whatever else will help us in the rethinking process (though in our home it is just a normal and accepted part of our parent/child interaction and doesn’t have a name of its own to distinguish it from any other kind of communication). Next, we can have prepared responses ready so that we aren’t ‘stuck’ when we’re trying to cope with our instinctive irritation at the same time that we need to focus on helping an upset child in need of guidance. Here are some possible responses:
If the child is over-wrought…
- “I can see you’re upset. Let’s take a minute and breathe (or pray or use a calm-me-jar) and then we’ll be able to think clearly.”
When the child is calm enough to talk…
- “Okay, now we’re a bit calmer, can you tell me what upset you?”
- “Why do you think they did that?”
- “How do you think we should handle that?”
- “What could you have done differently?”
- “What would you want them to do if you had done that?”
Often just feeling heard is enough to help the child find their own solution to the problem, but if further guidance is needed we can brainstorm solutions with them, walk them through some possible scenarios, or even step in and help them resolve the problem.
In addition to teaching valuable conflict resolution skills, giving our children the sure knowledge that they aren’t alone in the world and don’t have to cope with life on their own is a vital message. Logically speaking, does it really make sense to teach our children that they can’t trust us with their problems, can’t come to us when they’re stressed and don’t know how to cope, can’t seek wise counsel when confronted with situations that are beyond their ability to handle?
The potential ramifications of that mindset are chilling. Can we really expect children to have the mental clarity and emotional maturity to be able to distinguish ‘good’ telling from ‘bad’ telling when faced with bullying or peer pressure or, God forbid, sexual predators? It’s well known that sexual predators manipulate children with such lines as “No one will believe you” and “No one will listen, anyway.” Guarding our children against those lies, against the bullies, against pressure from their peers is essential, and keeping the communication doors flung wide open is certainly a powerful step in the right direction.
Here’s a shocker for you: Whining is actually a sign of maturity! Yep, that unnerving, endless, nails-on-a-chalkboard, make-your-head-explode whine is a sign that your little one is growing up and, get this, gaining self-control! I can see your heads shaking, but read on, parents, caregivers, and bleeding ears of the world, read on. Why Whining is a Win!
One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar. Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!
We’ve added a Dr Seuss Quiet Bag to our Parenting in Public: Toddler Time page, and we’re working on a Dr Seuss Quiet Book, too!
The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?
April 12, 2012 | Categories: abuse, adolescence, bullying, calm me jar, character, childhood, children, communication, gentle parenting, learning, peer pressure, positive parenting, preschooler, stress, teens, toddler, wisdom, wise council | Tags: abuse, adolescence, bullying, childhood, children, communication, gentle parenting, peer pressure, positive parenting, preschoolers, sacrificial parenting, teens, toddler | 18 Comments »
[From Tots to Teens: Communication Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
“By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.” – Jean Baptiste Girard
I love words. I love language. I love playing with old, staid quotes and classic literature titles, stories and legends, clichés and adages, and weaving them into unique or humorous settings.
But along with loving word play, I’m very aware of the power of language. Words can bring life, “It’s a boy!” and love, “I do!” and words can bring death, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.”
When it comes to raising children, the power of words cannot be overestimated. From how the labels we use influence our own perceptions of our children and their perceptions of themselves to how children’s immature grasp of language limits their understanding and responses, words exercise immense power over the life of a child.
Just as important as being careful of the labels we use and having an understanding of language development in young children, though, or even more so, is being aware of the propensity of stressed and angry adults to ‘power-up’ on children and use language as a weapon. The lash of the tongue on the heart of a child can have devastating and lasting consequences.
“You stupid little idiot!”
“Can’t you do anything right?”
“Why did I ever have you?”
“I hate my life!”
“You are totally useless!”
Words live and breathe and grow in our hearts until they either bear life-giving fruit…comfort, security, confidence…or fester into infectious, oozing wounds…despondency, anxiety, rage.
There is great truth to the belief that bullying begins at home. Children learn what they live. Just as violence begets violence, so angry parents tend to result in angry children, and parents who ridicule tend to produce sarcastic children, and critical parents tend to generate negative children.
Whether the children end up the bully or the bullied, aggressive with their peers or with themselves, cutting down others or cutting themselves, the fact is that hurting people hurt people, and children raised with condemnation in whatever form it takes are hurting people. Period.
Words matter. They matter desperately…as desperate as a five-year-old is to hear she’s good, as desperate as a ten-year-old is to hear he’s smart, as desperate as a fifteen-year-old is to hear she’s valuable.
The truth is that we all make mistakes. We all say the wrong thing sometimes. We get angry and frustrated and overwhelmed and lash out at these tiny, impetuous, energetic, often incomprehensible, but always vulnerable little people we’ve been entrusted with the care and raising of. And often we don’t apologize because we don’t want to appear weak or admit we’ve made a mistake or it just doesn’t occur to us that we should apologize to a child. But words can heal, too, and an apology is a necessary step in the healing process.
But when verbal blows go untended, souls become scarred. When lashing out becomes the norm, damages begin to mount. And when children with battered souls grow into adults, the vicious cycle often continues in the form of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other self-destructive behaviors.
Parents, choose your words wisely, carefully, thoughtfully. Your children’s futures depend on it.
March 26, 2012 | Categories: abuse, adolescence, bookish, books, bullying, childhood, children, communication, nerd, positive parenting, preschooler, stress, teens, Uncategorized | Tags: abuse, adolescence, bullying, childhood, children, communication, positive parenting, preschoolers, teens | 8 Comments »