At five, my daughter sometimes used to ask me why I was using that “tono” voice. (You know the voice, don’t pretend you don’t.) It usually brought me up short, but it also reminded me how much what we parents say—and how we say it—matters.
Even now that she’s grown up, she and I sometimes find ourselves remarking when one of us comes out with a “tono” voice. It’s become a habit to work together on that—and maybe not such a bad one!
In my last post here, I identified seven “life skills” that the parents I’ve been working with really wanted to see their children develop, with practice:
• Taking other perspectives
• Time management
In our conversations, these parents are unpacking those skills, one by one. They’re looking at just what coaching kids need when they’re developing these skills—not just at school, but at home, with us as their guides.
For example, what communicative habits do we really care about in our children—so much that we are willing to model them ourselves, to break them down for kids, to help them practice their component parts, to encourage their progress, and to celebrate their success?
Here are some answers that we came up with:
We want kids to speak clearly, so we (and others) can understand them. We care about what tone of voice they use. And we want their words they choose to suit the occasion.
We also hope their body language—their posture, eye contact, expressions—will come across as respectful and appropriate.
And finally, we want them to listen attentively when others are speaking to them.
One thing that became apparent to us is that those skills carry over to many other realms. Teachers are always working on the same things in the classroom, for example. And when our kids grow up, good communication habits will serve them well whatever field they work in.
But parents are children’s first teachers. By the time our kids arrive at school, they sound and act like us, more than we even know. When they get mad, our words will come out of their mouths. When they interrupt, it’s because in our house it’s everybody’s habit.
So maybe our first job as coach is to monitor our own communication habits. And why not make that transparent to the kids? After all, it puts communication out there as something we all have to practice, all the time.
Dominique, who has a five-year-old boy, realized that to her chagrin. “I just tell him ‘can you make your bed?’ she said. “Sometimes I say please, and sometimes I don’t.”
However frustrating it may be at the time, practicing good communication habits at home pays off when our kids go out to school or other social contexts.
“People will say, ‘He’s such a pleasure to have over, he’s so polite!’” said Susan, who has a boy of nine. “I’m really surprised and happy to hear it, and when I tell him that the parents have said something to me, it has made a big difference to him.”
What are your family’s ways of practicing better communication? Send in your dilemmas and your stories. The rest of us would love to hear from you!