So, I look at my wonderful, beautiful, calm, sweet sleeping child across the room. She turns over in her sleep and finds Lippy, her favourite soft toy rabbit next to her and snuggles close. I sigh a deep sigh of contentment. This is motherhood I think watching my child and have my chest puff out with pride.
And then my chest “unpuffs” as I reflect on a difficult few months.
Why do you never listen to me?
Remember what I told you yesterday?
What did I just tell you about that?
Are you even listening to me?
and all the arguments we have had and how many many many times I thought I was talking to a brick wall. Why oh why is it so hard to get Molly to listen to me? Surely, I was not like this when I was a child, was I?
So it made me think - how can I get my child to listen to me? This led to a Molly and Polly listening project. Here are our findings :)
Step 1 - Model good listening.
After a few failed attempts I realised while I have a lot of patience for other things, somehow I am very impatient when I need Molly to do something. It made me ask myself why I have a different bar for her and a different bar for everyone and everything else.
I think it is because part of me thinks she is already 18 years old and understands the disrespect that one feels when you aren’t listened to and the other part of me thinks she is on a secret vendetta to not listen to me and it will result in me parenting a spoilt child and I will fail in the parent deliverables and be sent for a performance management improvement plan. I kid you not.
So this is what we tried out - have an ‘I need to talk to you sign’.
So when my child comes up to me and if I am not in the right headspace because I am literally juggling a work phone call, writing up a grocery list and planning dinner for that day - we decided to have signs.
1) It’s so urgent I will even give up a sweet treat to ask this question - heart sign by pressing the thumbs and index fingers together to make the shape
2) I can wait till you finish but I need to ask you something - thumbs up sign
This stops me from assuming as well. Because sometimes I assume that I know what she’s going to say and as soon as I hear the keywords I start responding. That’s not good listening on my part.
This way I have a few minutes to finish up the task on hand and devote a full five minutes to consider whether she can have two biscuits for snack time if it is a number 2 sign or if it is a no 1 sign it is usually because her favourite hairband cannot be found for a grand total of 2 minutes or she desperately would like to watch some TV.
Step 2 - Give them choices and help them make their own decisions.
Let’s look at one of the examples above. So when Molly comes up to me and says she’d like to watch TV and I would like to limit her screen time and not want to get into an argument I say, ‘sure, would you like to watch TV for half an hour now or for one hour after lunch?’
She tilts her head to one side thinking about this very carefully and as I expect chooses the latter because even she sees the benefit in that. I then pre-empt her next question - ‘what do you think you can do until then? Would you like to play in the garden or play with some blocks on your own?’
‘Play with my blocks’ she replies and skips off happily.
This isn’t always so easy but the choices do help and help her feel that she is in control.
Step 3 - Ask your child to come up with consequences for not listening.
So despite all efforts, there are many times things do not go according to plan. After the tears and the mild or severe tantrum whichever we have had that day, Molly and I sit and talk.
‘I understand you needed to let out your feelings Molly and you were upset that you could not watch the full episode of your favourite show because we needed you to have dinner. Shall we talk about how we can do things better next time?’
‘I know, that was bad behaviour.’ Molly says completely angelic and without a trace of that child who screamed as if there was no tomorrow.
‘What do you think your punishment should be Molly? We have talked about this so many times and you know that kind of behaviour will not help you get what you want. Do you want to lose the TV tomorrow or do you want to do some extra chores around the house?’
‘Extra chores please mummy.’ She replies.
So, I have a tidy-up and a laundry partner the next day and to make it a win-win we have some quality mother-daughter time thrown in.
Step 4 - Work together with your child to come up with a priority list.
Molly has her notebook where she’s started on a to-do list like mummy. So she asks me what she should put in it every day. She has two important things that I want her to do and two extra things. So if she completes the important things, she gets a high five, a hug and a happy mummy. If she completes the extra things as well, she can choose a special activity for the day. Like movie night, special playtime with mummy and daddy and so on.
Step 5 - in Molly’s words - ‘I will listen if you don’t shout.’
So I reflect and yes it has been a tough year and I have shouted. I feel incredibly guilty about it later and we’ve had many chats about this. I make sure I apologise and tell her I will do better next time. I think it was important for Molly to know that I was sorry and that I didn’t enjoy shouting at her. That has helped defuse many situations as when I feel I am losing my cool, Molly tilts her head and looks at me with a cheeky smile - ‘remember mummy - no shouting’.
Instead, I walk away and cool down to return when my thoughts are more rational and we can both look at a solution together.
Listening does sometimes feel like a fantasy but these strategies have really helped Molly and I, especially during these very difficult times. I hope it helps you too in some way. Until next time :)