Thursday, September 11, 2014

Our Children are listening: Nine Messages they need to hear from you by Jim Taylor PhD

In my pursuit to becoming a better parent, I found yet another interesting and helpful parenting book - "Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You" - by Jim Taylor, Phd. I've read the book and had my notes for quite sometime, but the draft remained a draft (revision after revision, trying to keep it short but informative enough) until now. .

The book basically talks about how parents can clearly communicate messages to parents and how parenting skills can be developed in conveying these messages. The author enumerated nine messages that our children needed to hear from us. I think, as parents, we all know that COMMUNICATION is indeed a very important part of the parent-child relationship (so with other relationships). His book not only suggests HOW we should communicate but WHAT we should communicate to our children. I learned new techniques on how to communicate with my children better (although I have to say learning is one thing, applying what I've learned is another).

Through the course of reading the book, I have not only learned about what he wanted to convey to parents in terms of the messages we should convey to our children, but I also learned more about myself and came to a realization as to why I react the way I do in certain circumstances (eg. lose temper, feel impatient etc) and what the root cause was. With this new-found knowledge about myself and the answers to the myriad of questions I had in my mind for years, I believe that I am now more equipped to face the challenges of parenting that's ahead of me. How I wish I had found this book like 14 years ago!!! But I think it's never too late. I hope by sharing some of the author's ideas in his book through my blog, I can also help other parents improve their communication with their children, as it has helped me (so far).

The author, let's simply call him Jim, wrote that children have default options (healthy or otherwise) that are automatically selected in every situation. These defaults (eg. body language, vocabulary) they usually pick up from role-modeling parents, peers and other people in their lives. 

Below are excerpts from his book (in italics) that I have summarized and some of my personal comments (in blue and black non-italics).

The most important thing that you can do to ensure that your children get the right messages is to know what those right messages are.
  • What was the emotional tone and style your of your family life when you were a child? Was it calm and reserved or expressive and chaotic?
  • What values were expressed in your family, such as faith, charity, achievement, or fitness?
  • What attitudes or beliefs were evident in your family, for example humility, compassion, hope?
  • What activities and experiences did your family share, for instance sports, games or gardening?
  • What healthy messages did you receive as a child that you want to pass along to your children?
  • What unhealthy messages did you receive as a child that you don't want your children to get?
  • What values do you most want to instill in your children?
  • What beliefs about themselves do you want your children to gain?
  • What attitudes toward others and the world to you want your children to develop?
  • What values, beliefs, and attitudes do you want to protect your children from?
  • What activities and experiences can you share with your children to communicate healthy messages and obviate unhealthy messages?
Nine of the most important messages that young children need to get from you (author's version):
  1. love
  2. competence
  3. security
  4. compassion
  5. gratitude
  6. Earth
  7. respect
  8. responsibility
  9. emotion
Thoughtful and dispassionate discussion, an atmosphere of mutual respect, and the shared goal of finding solutions to the message conflict that best serve your children can ensure that the two of you minimize the conflict and maximize the good messages you are sending to your children.

You may want to develop some practical guidelines about the messages you want to communicate based on these discussions.

You can also assign particular roles depending on your temperaments and styles. Play to your strengths.

"Looking in the mirror" (considering the messages that you may have received during your childhood or later in life that you may inadvertently be passing on to your children) can be painful because no one likes to look at their baggage and weaknesses. At the same time, it is an act of courage, resolve, and unselfishness to be willing to face your demons for the good of your children.

You give your children a lifelong gift when you don't send them unhealthy messages that your parents have sent you (or that you picked up elsewhere along the way).

The upside of knowing your baggage is the realization that you have the power to change the messages you convey to your children.You can learn to be conscious of those messages, take control of them, and stop sending (or at least send fewer) messages that may not be healthy for your children.

Message conduits
  • What you say - your messages come from what you say to your children directly. Be sure to consider what the real message you want to communicate is and if your words will best convey that message.(eg. "You were so helpful" instead of "you are such a good boy", if you want to convey message of being helpful around the house)
  • What you feel - you send messages to your children through your emotional content, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Your emotional messages may be the most powerful because children, as not yet fully developed verbal beings, are highly attuned to their parents' emotions.It's important to make sure that your verbal, behavioral and emotional messages are aligned.
  • What you do - "action speaks louder than words".Your children want to do what you do. That influence bestows on you extraordinary power as a role model. With great power comes great responsibility. This realization might instill in you great fear that your children might pick up some of your less admirable messages. At the same time, you also possess the ability to model wonderfully positive behavior.
  • Who you are - the way you interact with the world outside your direct relationship with your children, and the messages that you send to them inadvertently just by being who you are, may have an equally influential effect on them. Your goal and challenge is to highlight and communicate the positive aspects of who you are and be aware of and mitigate the less attractive qualities that you, like all parents, possess.
  • What your children do - your children's own actions speak louder than your words or actions. The more you can get your children to engage in words, emotions and actions that represent the message you want to communicate, the more directly and powerfully they will and adopt it as their own. When your children talk, feel or act in ways that convey a message  - for example, being loving to you, sharing with a sibling, or cleaning up their bedrooms - they are actually sending a positive message to themselves that they can't misinterpret.
Message Strategies
Actual means by which the messages are transmitted. The aim of the strategy is to provide a pathway for your messages into your children's minds.
  • Catchphrases - usually goofy or jokey, easy to remember, and tangible. They're also "sticky" (children retain them). Often created spontaneously based on something one says or does.
  • Routines or rituals - repetition is an essential part of transmitting messages, and rituals provide that consistent replication. Routines and rituals communicate messages not only y what you say or do but also, more powerfully, by the actions your children themselves take. When they engage in routines and rituals and experience positive consequences, your children gain "buy-in" and ownership of the messages, which is essential for their long-term adoption of these messages. 
    • Routines (eg. during meals and bedtime) have a practical focus that involves accomplishing necessary daily tasks that offer children a predictable framework that helps them to organize and make sense of the steadily growing world in which they live. Allows them to practice important competencies (eg. dressing, bathing, grooming). Provide children with a sense of familiarity, control and comfort that instills the sense of security and stability that is so fundamental to development.
    • Rituals (eg. Sunday dinners and holiday celebrations with extended family) carry with them deeper meaning, sending messages of connectedness and spirituality to children. Often seen as special activities unique to individual families, and as such, encourage love, closeness and support. Convey messages about what families value most.
  • Activities - because what you and your children do has a greater effect on them than what you say, the more direct way to communicate messages is to engage your children in activities in which the messages are embedded.
  • Outside support - you can't communicate all of the messages you want to send to your children by yourself. Enlist help from the world around you (extended family and friends, schools your children go to, the houses of worship your family attends, extracurricular activities in which your children participate) so that your children are enveloped in a cocoon of healthy messages before they leave that protective nest and venture into a world that is full of anything-but-healthy messages. The more sources from which your children receive positive messages, the more likely they will bee to see their value and adopt them as their own. 
Throughout the book, the author gives examples for each of the message strategies mentioned about. 

Use multiple conduits - Children possess different learning styles -- visual (by watching), auditory (by listening), kinesthetic (by doing), reading/writing, and tactile (by feeling). You should send messages through the conduits that play to your children's learning strengths, thus increasing the likelihood that your messages will get through. When you send messages through multiple conduits that engage their dominant and nondominant learning styles, you will get the messages through to your children in more and different ways.

Loudspeaker vs Stealth Messages
"Loudspeaker" messages - telling your children the message you want them to get, pointing it out in other people, or telling stories with the specific message in mind. The risk with direct messages is that your children may get fed up with all of your messaging and resist the messages our of sheer irritation with you.

"Stealth" messages are those which leave your children completely unaware that what they are doing is connected with a message (eg. playing games).You know that your message is sneaking past them into their little minds.

Let your children help shape your messages
Your children will have experiences, challenges and reactions everyday that should alert you to great opportunities to communicate messages to your children.

Let your children guide you in how best to send your messages. Listen and watch for opportunities that can be turned into catchphrases, routines and rituals, and activities that convey the messages you want. Kids are also creative and playful, and as a result, can turn a serious message into serious fun, which increases their attention to the message and their desire to act on that message.

Four keys to message success
Patience, repetition, persistence, and perseverance are the most powerful tools you have for meeting that challenge (sending healthy messages that really sink in). Effective message retention (your children receiving, assimilating, and expressing the desired messages) depends on communicating messages over and over and over again.

Patience acts as the foundation for the other three keys to successful messaging. When you make a commitment to deliberate messaging, your first acknowledgment is that, as a parent, you are in it for the long haul. The more experience you gain as a parent, the more you realize that few things related to your children happen overnight, Just about everything about children takes time, lots of time. (This I have to stress as I've been in this task for the longest time - 14yrs to my eldest and 9 to my youngest - and I have to say I'm still learning, and sometimes scrambling for the most effective way as some of the things I've done with my eldest is not effective with my youngest. Biggest challenge for me is to be patient, not only in reacting to their behaviors/actions but also in following through some of the messages I want to send to them especially when they don't seem to get any of it!)

It all starts with patience, knowing that most of your efforts will not be forwarded for a long time, perhaps months, perhaps years, but it is also grounded in the belief that your commitment and hard work will bear fruit sooner or later. When you begin with this Zen-like patience, you accept obstacles, setbacks, failures, and resistance as part of the long journey of raising your children. The result is great resolve, more level-headedness and empathy, less frustration, and most important, a very clear meta-message to your children that "I am never giving up!"

Repetition address the simple fact that children won't get most messages in the first or second or tenth or hundredth time we send them. Many parents give up long before  they hit that magic number. Frustration, anger, exhaustion and despair sum it all up pretty well. When you hit despair, the next reaction is to give up, but there is no place in parenting for surrender, because when you throw in the towel you're really giving up on your children. The result? They lose.

Persistence must be the single most necessary tool for getting messages across to your children. Even when your children seem not to be listening (though they actually are), when they don't seem to be getting the messages (the blank stare), when they are acting contrary to your messages (just to test your limits), your commitment to these messages and your willingness to persist against such discouragement will ultimately determine whether your children truly get your messages. You have to stick with it no matter how little appears to be getting through those stick skulls of theirs.

Persistence involves just continuing to send the messages under normal conditions. Perseverance means continuing to send the message in the face  of setbacks and discouragement. It starts with an unwavering commitment to do what's best for you children, no matter how tiring, frustrating, or just plain galling it gets. It continues with an ever-conscious awareness of when your children are pushing you to the edge - recognition alone will help prevent you from giving up - and a reaffirmation to continue to send the messages no matter what. Perseverance concludes with a deep faith in the value of your messages to your children.This steadfast conviction that your efforts will eventually be rewarded will provide you with the intentional fortitude to step back from the precipice, turn around, and continue your journey of healthy messaging for the sake of your children.

Message Rules
  • BE CLEAR: Make sure that your words, emotions, and actions unambiguously communicate the message you want to convey.
  • BE SIMPLE: Tailor your message to fit your children's level of development.
  • BE ACTIVE: The best way to convey messages is through your actions and the actions of your children.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN: Let them help you decide what messages to communicate and how to send them.
  • IMMERSE YOUR CHILDREN IN MESSAGES: The more conduits through which you can send messages to your children - through words, emotions, actions, activities, and outside influences - the greater the likelihood they will get the messages.
What can block your messages?
  • Overly complex messages ("huh?")- The problem is that parents see their messages through their own eyes rather than those of their children. But your children don't think the way you do. This is why you have to walk in your children's shoes. If you were them, what message would you be getting? 
  • Disconnect between send and receive ("but I didn't mean that") - You may intend to send one message but end up sending another.The disconnect here is between your intention and your action. The disconnect can also occur between what you send and what your children receive (how clear is your message?). Children have different learning styles that will affect their receptivity to your messages. Your children also have different temperaments, each of which can affect whether and how they pick up the messages you send them.
  • Infrequent Messages ("how may times have I told you?") - You need to keep your messaging on track and consistent: You need to keep messaging on your radar screen as much as possible. 
  • Too many messages ("do this, that, and the other thing) - One thing you have to be careful of when you commit to conscious messaging is message overload - trying to convey to many messages to your children at one time (GUILTY!). The best strategy is to choose and focus on a few messages that are most appropriate to your children's current level of development and life situation. Life has a way of letting parents know what their children need to learn at any given time.
  • Inconsistent messages ("you can this time") - Though we may not like to admit it, many of us parents aren't as consistent as we should be. Ask yourself in what situations do you become inconsistent in your messages? This awareness alone can trigger an internal alarm that reminds you of the need to send messages consistently. You can also develop strategies such as taking a deep breath or having a keyword that will help you remember the importance of consistency in your messages as you enter those situations that are difficult for you.
  • Conflicting messages ("but daddy said...") - If you and your spouse send conflicting messages, you pretty much guarantee that your messages won't get through to your children. They will be confused by the contradictory messages from such credible sources and may become paralyzed with the uncertainty about what your message really is and what you want them to do. Another problem is that children are amazingly adept at learning which parent will give them what they want.To reduce conflicting messages, parents need to look at their parenting beliefs and explore where the conflicting messages are coming from.
  • Different conduits, different languages ("do as I say, not as I feel") - the only way to prevent disconnect between what you say and what you feel is to acknowledge and accept your emotions. Be genuine. It's not only ok to communicate to your children that you are frustrated or angry, it's actually beneficial to them. They won't be confused by your conflicting messages. They will get the message that they should get, namely, that you're mad and frustrated with them because they aren't being cooperative. Of course, you don't want to yell at them. That sends an entirely different message, that yelling is okay when you're mad. It also sends a meta-message that it's okay to lose control of your emotions. Your children will also benefit from several other meta-messages from your emotional honesty. They will learng that it's okay to feel negative emotions and express them appropriately, and they will learn the powerful lesson that their actions affect others.
  • Fatigue ("I'm so tired") - an almost unavoidable part of parenting is exhaustion, both physical and mental. Too little sleep, too few respites, and too little time dedicated to your own needs can all contribute to a state of deep fatigue that leaves you, at best, lethargic and unmotivated, and, at worst, depressed or physically ill. Exhaustion leaves you without the energy to send healthy messages. Fatigue leads to expediency - one of the most harmful words in parenting - which means acting in your self-interest rather than what is best for your children. "Self-interest" and "good parenting" don't play well together.
  • Unhappy marriages or divorced parents ("whose side are you on, my dear?") - The very nature of troubled or broken marriages makes creating unity extremely difficult. No matter what your feelings about each other may be, you have a responsibility to place the needs of your children ahead of your own and work together to present cohesive, consistent, and healthy messages to them. You will need to have open discussions with your spouse or ex-spouse that enable each of you to find ways to separate your own issues and needs from those of your children.
  • Siblings ("I was talking to your brother") - Not only are your children getting the messages you direct towards their siblings, they're also receiveing the messages that their siblings communicate to you and to one another. How do you deal with all of this message confusion? You start by having a set of messages that apply to all of your children. Basic values of honesty, responsibility, and kindness, for example, are relevant for all ages. "No hitting" (underlying message: kindness) and "put your toys away" (underlying message: responsibility) are also meaningful for all your children. You can do your best to separate your messages by separating your children when you have a specific message to send.
  • Extended family ("you mean I'm not allowed to spoil my grandchildren?") - The best approach is to start by being appreciative beyond a doubt for the grandparents' spending time with your children (and giving you a break!), Then, discuss the values you want to instill in your children. Next, provide guidelines to the grandparents on what messages you want to send to your children (eg. limiting gifts and sweets and expecting children to be respectful and cooperative) while giving the grandparents some latitude in appreciation for all they do for your children.
  • Social world ("It's a jungle out there") - The social world can be an immense message blocker because you can't control everyone to whom your children are exposed outside the home.The best way to limit their exposure to the messages you don't want them to get is to thoughtfully create a social world that will communicate the messages that you want them to receive, by carefully choosing your children's childcare, preschool programme, elementary school, extracurricular activities and playdates to ensure that most of the influences in your children's world support your messages. This doesn't mean rejecting your children's friends just because they or their parents do something with which you don't agree. You should be open with the parents of your children's friends about the messages you do and don't want your children to get, and ask these parents to respect your limits.
  • Popular culture ("no, you can't have another Dora the Explorer doll") - From relatively old media (eg. TV, DVDs, magazines) to the explosion of new media (eg. mobile phones, the Web), popular culture has become ever-present, intense and unrelenting vehicle for sending messages to children, and many of those messages are not healthy. For its sheer pervasiveness and inescapability, popular culture is the most difficult message blocker confronting you.You can limit your children's contact with popular culture by first looking at what aspects of popular culture they are exposed to in their daily lives.
So there it goes, our introduction to the hows and whys of sending clearer messages to our children that, hopefully, will help us in having a more effective communication with our children. 

Below are the nine messages following the book's structure:

1) I like myself 
Message #1: Love is your child's wellspring ("Sooo Much")
Message #2: Competence is your child's strength ("I Did It")
Message #3: Security is your child's safe harbor ("I'm Okay")

2) I like others 
Message #4: Compassion is your child's hands ("Sharing is Caring")
Message #5: Gratitude is your child's heart ("Mo Grat")
Message #6: Earth is your child's home ("We're a Green Family")

3) Others like me 
Message #7: Respect is your child's measure ("The Look")
Message #8: Responsibility is your child's shoulders ("That's the job")
Message #9: Emotion is your child's palette ("Feel Good, Feel Bad")

Enjoy reading and good luck to all of us in our never-ending parenting challenges.

Your children are listening: Nine messages they need to hear from you
Jim Taylor PhD
Singapore NLB reference 306.8784 TAY-[FAM]

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing! A LOOONG one but good and useful pointers/tips and well written! Keep sharing and well done!


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