Too much talk. It’s easy to do and hard to stop. Many parents are addicted to it. When children need to do something or behave in a certain way, parents feel they must explain, reason with, explain again in a slightly different way, negotiate, nag, lecture, remind, cajole, put another spin on it and say it again.
When reasoning, explaining and using lots of words, parents feel like they’re doing their job in a way that will contain the chaos and allow them to maintain control. A large number of parents would agree that they struggle in the ‘over talking’ department.
What ‘Too Much Talk’ sounds like
- Mum telling her three-year-old why he cannot bite his baby brother. This is the eighth time she has explained this to him in the last two days.
- Dad reminding his small daughter why she must not get out of bed anymore. He has been very patient but his voice is getting tighter and his colour is changing. This is the 13th time he has put her back to bed in the last 30 minutes.
- Mum refereeing a fight again. Sisters aged four and five years are squabbling over the dress ups and who gets to wear the pink jewellery. Mum explains the rules again but has already decided that tomorrow she will buy some more pink jewellery!
- A three-year-old has thrown his dinner on the floor and is in a full-blown tantrum. He can’t even hear his dad at the moment, but Dad proceeds to tell him off. Dad tells him that he is sick of all the fuss over food and from now on there won’t be any alternative. If he doesn’t eat what’s offered – that’s fine. (He said all that yesterday.)
How kids react
Something interesting takes place inside children when they are on the receiving end of too much talk – but unfortunately, it’s not the desired effect of gaining more cooperation. In fact, it’s often the opposite. Children subject to a lot of talk will experience a range of feelings. Here’s what might really be happening inside your child when they’re on the receiving end of too much talk:
- Boredom. They know the reasons why they can or can’t do something, because it’s all been explained to them before. They are hearing information that they already know.
- Resentfulness. Their dignity is not being left intact. Every child wants to feel capable of remembering and acting on the information they have been given. If someone continues to remind them and re-explain things again and again, they can feel resentful at the lack of trust and belief in their abilities.
- Powerlessness. Being on the receiving end of lengthy explanations that come all packaged up with answers and solutions can leave a child overwhelmed and disempowered.
- Outward Anger. Some children respond to inflexibility and being too tightly controlled with intense anger and will resist their parent in order to get some of their power back.
- Inward Anger. Other temperaments respond less openly. Your words can sweep over a child and if they do not feel able to respond or articulate how they are feeling, they may withdraw from you and even quietly, but stubbornly, resist you.
So why all the talking?
Parents can be very generous and long suffering. They love to give their children every possible chance to get it right and learn something. When their child is not quite behaving in the ideal manner, over-talking can make parents feel more confident. There is a sense of ‘If I say this often enough, I will believe it and so will my child’. Parents assume that hearing the instruction over and over again will show their child how important it is, and increase the chance of compliance. This is why it’s so tempting to repeat and rephrase, saying it in a slightly different way in case the original message was missed… All of this parental monologue is basically to give children the very best chance of cooperating.
Some parents talk a lot because they are buying some time while they decide what to do next. Others do it to calm themselves down. All in all, over-talk is not the best tool in parenting and if parents can resist the temptation to do it, there is much to be gained in both enjoyment of our children and in their levels of cooperation. The alternative – biting your tongue, so to speak – can look like leaving space for the words to settle, having an expectation that what you said has been heard and some stubborn grit to hold back from over-delivering.
Less lecturing, reminding and fussing… but what shall we do instead?
Take the example of Dad going over the bedtime rules again and again. As generous as Dad is being with his time and patience, the result is that his daughter is feeling less and less convinced that Dad knows what he is doing. Instead, start with one restatement of the bedtime rule “Goodnight honey. Sleep tight. Stay in bed.” Then, if she gets out – no talk, no rule reminders and no engagement. Don’t be interesting. Put her back to bed. Keep calm. Keep quiet. Keep pleasant. And keep it up as many times as necessary. No huffing or puffing, sighing or swearing.
Children need to know they are important to their parents and that their feelings and preferences will be listened to and accommodated where possible. Inevitably, however, family life involves compromise. Everyone’s needs are taken into consideration, which requires the cooperation of all family members. Keep your family rules simple and discuss them with your children while you’re establishing them. You might even like to record them in a family book or display them on the wall.
Children respond to our confidence and calm. And they like it when they know the deal and there is no fuss attached to it. In her book Kids Are Worth It!, Barbara Coloroso puts it so well: “Say it, mean it, do it.” This keeps interactions between parents and children simple, fair, uncomplicated and respectful. Everyone likes to be treated this way. So next time you’re heading down the ‘too much talk’ track – stop, breathe and allow yourself a few words (just a few!). All you need is a calm delivery and a simple follow-through to reinforce your intention. This might sound like, “Time to put the blocks away now. The TV can go back on as soon as all the blocks are in the basket.”
Keep up the amazing work! And remember, once is enough for instructions. Save your voice for the fun stuff, like reading stories, singing loudly in public (kids love it when we do that) and catching up with your friends!
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