This post was prompted by an experience I had recently. I was walking my dog Jess past our local nursery. As we approached, there were 3 kids who came running around the corner of the building (aged about 3 years old) and as they saw us in their excited state, they picked up a handful of gravel and threw it on the pavement in front of us (but not aiming at us!)
One of the nursery staff who saw this warned them “if you throw stones, you’ll hit the dog”. The next minute they picked up another handful and did the same thing again. You could see the disbelief on the adult’s face.
Yet as I walked past them (both me and my dog Jess unscathed) I realised that what she had meant to say was “don’t throw stones as you’ll hit and hurt the doggie”. But she didn’t say that. She had stated a fact, not an instruction or guidance. Even though she had used a tone that might warn them not to do it, the words were factual. It made me ponder on the thought that when we communicate with kids, sometimes what we say and what we think we have said are really different.
I read a wonderful book called ‘how to talk so children list and how to listen so children talk”. When I read it I realised that it was helping adults to both talk and listen more clearly thus helping their children communicate too. In fact when I read it I remember thinking “lots of relationships could really benefit from this – including mine!”
I’ve noticed that when we communicate with children who have autism, this is a lesson in being clear and specific - really saying what we mean. If you watch Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory – you’ll have a funny, yet strong example of how important it is to communicate clearly! I’ve often heard that children who are on the spectrum don’t understand irony or sarcasm. However I believe that lots of children don’t understand this. It’s an adult perspective and usually born of cynicism (why would we want to teach our children this anyway!) It’s not helpful when we are trying to teach our children clear communication skills.
Communication – the influence of perception
Perception can also play a large part in our communication (and listening skills). You may have noticed this already when you read certain emails and depending on how you feel, it can really colour your interpretation of the words. Whether the words are spoken or written, how you hear and interpret them has a lot to do with where you are and how you are feeling at that moment.
Mindfulness is a wonderful tool to learn and teach our children as it shows us how to recognise when our emotions are colouring our perception of the facts. Mindfulness helps us recognise when we are projecting our own feelings or fears onto another person. When we are able to recognise this, we can communicate (talking and listening) much more clearly.
Children may be too young at first to learn mindfulness, but if we practise it, then it helps us to stay present and help us perceive the facts rather than become involved in the heat or emotion of the tantrum or tears that our children are using to express their emotions.
As children get older, we can teach them mindfulness skills so that they too can learn how to communicate clearly, helping them feel that they are heard and understood.
Perhaps we can consider that by being clearer in our communication then our children are really teaching us to be mindful. Both adult and child are experiencing a useful lesson.
I’ve found that simply repeating the following phrase with a single, deeper breath (especially when buttons are being pressed) is a way for me to be mindful before, during and after I communicate (and listen)…
“breathing in I know I am breathing in, breathing out I know I am breathing out”