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| Effective Communication and Children
When adults know why effective communication is so important for developing children’s self-esteem, they are more likely to do what is necessary. Without effective communication in response to children’s feelings and wishes, emotional and even physical suffering is likely. The NSPCC tell us that ‘...being a parent isn’t always easy... All parents have behaved in ways they regret – shouting or smacking.’ Assaulting and neglecting children leads to a breakdown of trust. The NSPCC warn us of the likely consequences: children will feel resentful and angry thereby spoiling family relationships, and they may lie, hide feelings, bully others, and become even more defiant. Also, babies may not miss their mother if she leaves the room and on her return may display ‘approach avoidance’. So, as these consequences show, adults must learn and use child-friendly strategies that will allow open communication and the building of self-esteem.
Three C's of Alfie Kohn
Parents can effectively resolve problems with younger children by using Alfie Kohn’s child-centred ‘three Cs’ approach. When issues arise, it can be difficult for children to understand what is happening in their emotional life. Kohn says, ‘Younger children cannot always identify and verbalize their motives.’ This can lead to an impasse between parent and child, and widespread family disruption.
Here is an example of it in practice. A four year old boy is struggling to sleep at the expected time every night.
The first C is ‘content’, where, from the child’s perspective, the adults must consider whether their expectation is reasonable. In the boy's case it is not reasonable to expect him to sleep at a set time if there are unresolved upsetting emotions churning within (from the culture shock of starting a new school to no longer being the baby of his stepfamily).
This leads to the second C of ‘collaboration’, where the child is involved in a child-friendly environment such as on the floor playing (not at the kitchen table with the TV on nearby as the parents tried initially!) and at a pace set by the child (unlike the boy's parents hastily trying to prise the solution out of the boy at said kitchen table). All this will tend to reveal the child’s true feelings. The parents play detective, seeing how the child feels about his/her life, being honest and open about how the child’s behaviour concerns them and that a solution would help the child too. They would likely need to give careful explanation and guidance. As a consequence, they may need to take some practical actions; in the boy's case, the mother may approach her ex-husband and ask him to put the boy to bed at a similar time.
The third C is ‘choice’, where the parents seek a ‘win-win’ solution to the issue, the child being offered two choices, both being more attractive to the parents than the existing impasse. The mother might offer her son a choice between playing or reading with Mummy, then it’s straight to bed. The reason why this approach is effective is that the child feels involved and has not been forced, so building open communication and self-worth.
The same applies to older children. Parents need to regularly ask their children how they feel about things that will affect them profoundly. Children want to be part of the process of decision making in their lives, even if they do not want to or cannot take responsibility for the decision.
Courses existed for adults on this, like Coram’s ‘Listening to Young Children’. Also, Open University offered the module 'Understanding Children and Young People', which explored effective communication with children - including Alfie Kohn's three C's.
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