A great blog post outlining the ways in which we can improve the way we communicate with our children, and how much our words can shape the lives of the children we’re raising.
The way we speak and listen plays a big part in the way we relate each other. The things we say to our children let them know what we think of them, and helps them to form their own ideas about who they are. Some of the remarks we make may be remembered years down the line. Words are so important, and yet all too often we find ourselves saying things we don’t mean. Or we end up snapping, shouting, or making hurtful comments. This makes us feel bad as well as our children.
Mindfulness can help us to feel good about the way we talk. When we bring awareness to our speech, we can choose our words wisely. We can use our speech to find connection rather than conflict.
Why do we need mindfulness to keep us on track?
Almost everybody has a voice inside their head that talks incessantly. For many people, this voice sounds exactly like their own voice. Sometimes the voice serves a useful function, at other times it provides unhelpful and unasked for advice. We can often find our voices commenting on the past or present, or having imagined conversations in the future.
We have a tendency to identify very strongly with this voice. Before I started practising mindfulness, I didn’t even realise I had a voice. I thought that voice was me. Being able to see (at least at times) that the voice inside my head is not, in fact, me is one of the major benefits of mindfulness.
Sometimes, when we are faced with a situation, our voice will come up with a comment. Often we’ll simply start articulating the words, without even making a decision to talk. The problem with this is that sometimes the voice comes up with some really duff things to say. Once the words are out there, there’s nothing we can do to take them back. So it pays to be really careful – that is, mindful – as we choose our words.
Where do these ill-judged comments come from? Very often the voice inside our head simply parrots scripts it has heard before. When a situation triggers some kind of negative memory or feeling from the past, your mind comes up with some pithy comment to accompany it. It might be something you heard your parents say when you were a child, or it might be something you read in the newspaper or heard on the bus last week. The voice itself may even turn into the voice of an authority figure from your past. It might not be exactly the same words – sometimes we just soak up a certain tone or inflection, that later infects the way we speak. Instead of assessing the situation coolly, when we are triggered we react with whatever comes into our heads, knee-jerk style.
Bringing mindfulness to our speech by shining a torch on it can help us begin to speak in a way that reflects our aspiration to be good parents. Mindfulness can help us be the parents we want to be. And of course that’s going to be beneficial to our children, but perhaps more importantly, it’s going to be beneficial to us. Feeling proud of the way we have spoken, feeling that we have done a good job, especially in a challenging situation, can be very empowering. Or it may be more important to recognise the value in biting our tongues and not saying something hurtful. The value of not doing something harmful is not often recognised. We won’t get a certificate. But actually, it’s even more important and far-reaching. Imagine a world where no one said any thing harmful.
When you find yourself in a situation that has the potential to get stressful, these tricks may help you stay mindful and not say things that will make the situation worse or that you later regret.
- Pretend you are on CCTV, and you’ll get the opportunity to watch the film later. Are you speaking in a way you’ll be embarrassed about? Or will you sound OK? Just momentarily bringing to mind the video camera, can help to gain that little bit of perspective on the situation.
- Another similar trick to play around with is to imagine that someone you really respect is in the room, listening to you. But make sure you choose someone who understands what you are aiming for, not someone who would judge you by your children’s behaviour. Sometimes the thought of a person can bring out the best in us. That might be a beloved family member, a teacher or a good friend.
- A twist on this is to fleetingly imagine that your child actually is that someone that you really respect. Ask yourself, ‘Would I say this to Great Gran, or my boss?’ Just try to conjure up the attitude that you would have while speaking to that other person, and talk to your child in the same spirit.
- One that I find works for me is to recall that while I speak to my child, I am at the same time modelling speech. I am not only communicating, but also teaching. Children invariably imitate the way we talk – whether they are talking back to us, or to their peers or siblings. When you are about to say something, ask yourself if you are happy for your children to speak these words/ in this tone to yourself or others. It is so incredibly gratifying when we hear our well-chosen words coming out of their mouths at a later date.
Although bringing awareness to our speech it may seem like an effort at first, the more we practise, the easier it becomes. Eventually we may find that the act of speaking itself reminds us to be mindful, and speaking with care comes as second nature.
Article written by Amber Hatch Author of Mindfulness For Parents published in paperback on 16th February 2017