Friday, 20 July 2012

Be a good girl today, okay?

I was never known as a person who is very good at talking.

When I was a child, I was a quiet and shy girl. Later when I learnt about personality types, I knew I am an introvert, who does more listening than talking most of the time. My field of work is engineering - you face data more than facing people, no presentations, no sales talks. I am not one of those natually encouraging type who is an expert at saying "Don't worry dear, everything is going to be alright." or "Well done, good job!". Husband and I had our fair share of arguments and fights in our marriage due to mis-communication.

Hence, as a mother I have been constantly reminding myself how to talk to my baby - be encouraging, speak positive words, offer a lot of praises and be very clear when giving instructions. Be encouraging and praising the child is a big topic by itself, and I still have a lot to learn about it, but today I want to share about giving instructions to the child, something I am so accustomed to in daily life, I seldom stop and think if I am doing it the right way. It is not until I chanced upon an article on "The toddlerhood transition" book did I realize some of my ways of talking to Kah Yen actually send the wrong message.

For example, "Be a good girl today, okay?" sounds alright right? - but the author calls it "Sending the wrong empowerment message". Let me explain.

(1) Asking our children for permission while giving instructions

I think I often do it without realizing so. Examples like:

When we are going out, "We are going out, let's play with this toy later, okay?"
At the playground, "It's late already, let's go back home, okay?"
On the road, "Kah Yen, Mummy is going to put you inside the stroller, okay?"
In the store, "Kah Yen, don't touch that, okay?"
... ...

As a parent, we really do not need to add "okay" to the end of our instructions because we do not need to seek our child's permission. "Okay?" or "All right?" at the end of our instruction sends the wrong message. Actually what we really mean is "Do you understand me?" It is better to use the full statement because asking if the child is "okay" with our instruction only undermines our authority. Imagining if Kah Yen is old enough to articulate, she might just reply "No, Mummy, I want to play some more." And it is only right I have to respect her decision because I asked her for it.

(2) Giving instruction to our children as an option when no option is available

It is another misleading form of instruction. What might this sound like? It is naptime but instead of saying, "You're going to take a nap", we give our child an option we really don't mean to give. We ask "Do you want to take a nap now?". Just think about it, which toddler is looking forward to saying "Yes" to that question?

I can still remember there was one night, Kah Yen was not fully recovered from her flu yet. She was fussing at bedtime and cried everytime I tried to put her down. I was not irritated or impatient, because I knew she was not feeling well. After some 10 minutes in the room of carrying and patting her, I gentlely said "Kah Yen, it is very late already. Do you want to sleep now?" When she raised her head and shook it I knew I was wrong. What I really should have said is "Kah Yen, it is very late already. You are going to sleep now."

From a developing toddler's perspective, he or she is interpreting our question as an option during a time when no option was meant to be given. This leads to confusion because we are sending a mixed message. There will be times when giving an option is appropriate but not when true obdience is called for.

The one principle that has been around for years should still be true, especially when giving instructions to children "Say what you mean and mean what you say".

I still have a lot to learn about communicating to a child.

PS: Part of this post is from the book "The toddlerhood transition" - part of the "Preparation for parenting" series by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.

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