I want my child to back chat and here is why you should too…

Often I see parents feeling undone by their children talking back, or back chatting, as it is called. It is tiring and frustrating and it feels like you are speaking to a wall. It makes us as parents feel like we are surely failing and that our kids are out to get us, like they don’t care in the slightest what we say. They tell us what they want, that they will and they cry. It can be very overwhelming if we as parents focus on getting the point across and then engage in a power struggle.

I want my children to backchat, I want them to challenge everything I say. I want them to dissect and find the loopholes in a struggle of ideas, I want them to share what they are thinking. In short I want them to learn to think and how to negotiate. I want them to develop their integrity and exercise their choices and ability to change their minds when they have access to new information.

The reality is our kids mirror what they see. So the way we engage with them back chatting teaches them how to deal with differences in opinion and how to engage with it. If we do not hear them out and listen to what they have to say or share how they think and why they think the way they do, especially when they are young, how will they ever be able to trust us to hear them when they are teenagers?

Children are deep thinkers, yet they don’t think like adults do, because their brains are still developing. Their thought process may be flawed, but more often than not they just need guidance and time to process what is being said. By engaging their back chatting and allowing them to share their thoughts, ideas and even disagreement, we create the space for our children to develop the skills to trust their own voice and instincts and rely on this well into adulthood.

The benefits for allowing and engaging back chatting, far outweighs the perceived rudeness and frustration. We usually become frustrated because of our own triggers (Learn how to recognise and handle your own triggers in Course 1 – Conscious, Creative, Connected Parenting click here for more information).

Most adults are raised with the idea that children’s voices or needs are secondary to those of the adults. We are raised to believe that the adult is always right, that the adult’s perspective is the only one that matters and that the adult has the monopoly on knowledge. But most of all we are taught that the adult can override and control anyone who is viewed as their inferior.

Many parents have asked me, but aren’t I then raising my child to be rude? No you are not. You are raising a child who will be able to manage adulthood with the right set of skills, as adulthood is all about negotiation, reflection, changing opinions when new information is presented and the ability to apply critical thinking to find creative solutions.

Benefits of back chatting:

1 – As a parent I learn where my child’s perspective lies and it opens up understanding of their point of view. This places us as parents in the position to know what and how our kids are thinking and where their reasoning skills are.

2 – Having an open discussion about what they think, opens up the opportunity to add value & understanding to their thoughts and for us as parents to reassess our point of view. It creates a relationship of trust, something parents and children really need to be able to rely on come the teenage years. It also teaches the child that their perspective is not only valued but also valid and respected.

3 – Humans have an innate desire to be heard and understood. By listening attentively to their perspectives and ideas, it navigates the emotional connection between ideas, needs and wants.

4 – It teaches their brains that they can change their opinion if they are presented with new information, without their integrity coming into question.

5 – It teaches them to become adults who will be open to learn and creatively problem solve within personal relationships and work relationships.

6 – It teaches them to be open to different perspectives and to be consciously aware that not everybody thinks the same way they do.

7 – It teaches them negotiation skills and the understanding, that in life any relationship is a two way street.

8 – It teaches them to internalise what they are being taught and police themselves, which develops independence and fosters a mind-set of good decision making.

How do you manage and engage back chatting productively

1 – Be sure you know why you are saying no or placing a boundary. Be sure that it is rational as you will have to explain your own thought process to you your child. “Because I said so” is never a good enough answer. It signals that you, yourself don’t really know why you are saying no and is thus just trying to control instead of guide.

2 – When the child is young, be ready for tears and possible screaming from their side. They are still very much emotionally regulated and not guided by rationality. Allow them to express their disappointment and work through their emotions.

3 – Keep the boundary while acknowledging their emotions and frustrations.

4 – When they have calmed down, ask for their input on the situation or boundary. Kids younger than 7 sometimes struggle with the blanket question “Why” so be specific. I.e.: “You said that you don’t want to clean your room. Is it because you did not want to do it by yourself, or that you prefer the mess?” A younger child may struggle to articulate how they feel or why, so try to break it down for them to understand. They will immediately be able to pinpoint why they don’t want to do something or why a boundary feels wrong, when they hear the wrong explanation come from the parent.

5 – Be open to their suggestions and contributions and be ready and open to change the decision when you have a better understanding of how they think – I have found that stating things like “I like the way you think.” opens our children up for conversation. Never tell a child that they did not or cannot think. They do and they can think, give them the space to develop those skills.

The conversation can then lead to one of five possible directions:

A – The parent asks for time to think about what the child has said and promises to get back them – in this situation the boundary stays intact until the parent has had time to think and process their feedback and how it affects the initial boundary.

B – With the new knowledge the boundary gets adjusted immediately – Be gracious about it, ie “Wow I like the way you thought about this. Let’s see if we can do it your way and see how it goes.” (There are many ways to get to the answer or solution, allowing our kids to try out their own is the best teacher they can have.)

C – The parent offers more information on the boundary, the information is accepted and they talk together about the best way the boundary can be implemented.

D – The child is not open or willing to accept new information. Parent accepts the viewpoint but keeps the boundary as is. The child will be upset and that is okay.

E – The child initially rejects the new information, takes time to think and then engages you on the boundary again.

6 – If it is a hard and fast boundary that cannot be moved, keep the boundary, while engaging with the content of their thoughts. Helping them to add new information to their thought process, without expecting them to immediately accept what you said. Be compassionate and allow them time to process the new information.

7 – If the tone of voice during this process is not acceptable, address it with kindness after they have processed their emotions. Engage with them on how to better engage with the process in future.

8 – Always be open to discussing the boundary again and again. A child who keeps coming back about a specific boundary is busy consolidating the information they have received, or they feel that they have not been heard and understood. So keep on talking it through even if you are tired of the discussion. We want our kids to internalise boundaries and tasks. We don’t want to police them, we want them to be able to govern themselves.

9 – Be honest and clear. Double check that you understand what your child is trying to communicate.

Throughout this process there are very specific don’ts.

The don’ts of back chatting:

1 – Never say, because I said so. It is a power play and it draws a line in the sand. It creates a combative situation and power struggle. It becomes a missed learning opportunity.

2 – Never tell a child that their thinking is wrong. Rather compliment their thinking and add more information with phrases like: “Have you thought about this? And add what you want them to take into consideration.

3 – Never tell a child that their emotions are insignificant and that they are not allowed to feel upset about a boundary. We all have negative feelings and are allowed to feel the way we do.

4 – Don’t rush to conclusions.

5 – Don’t be afraid of rethinking your own perspective.

6 – Don’t be afraid of apologising if you misunderstood.

In conclusion, back chatting is the early developmental stages of learning how to negotiate and problem solve. This process will only truly work if you as the parent are ready to be open for debate and apply proper communication skills.

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It is not a Child’s responsibility to make an adult feel loved

My eldest was just over a year, when a very powerful realisation struck me. I was not able to explain why I felt the way I did, nor could I verbalise as to why I spoke up. It just happened. Later it all made sense. My eldest was going through a developmental leap, he wanted nothing to do with any person besides his mom. Dad was proverbial chopped liver and so was the rest of the world.

We went to visit my folks, and as soon as anyone tried to take him away from me, he would wail and scream. Initially I would let him cry for about 2 minutes in the family member’s arms and then whisk him away to breastfeed. He would stop crying and calm down at my breast, but as soon as he was calm, another well meaning family member would try to take him away again. So the day continued. My son crying more often than usual, family members taking him, because they want to play. Me having to use breastfeeding as a shield and excuse to get him back so that he can stop crying.

I did not have the guts to say to them, don’t pick him up or take him. Just engage with him here in my arms. I swear I fed more that day than on a growth spurt. By the end of the day, both him and I have had enough.

In came my brother. He wanted to show him off to his colleagues over skype. He wanted to “bond” with my son. The moment he picked him up, my son started crying, for the umpteenth time that day. I have had enough. I asked for my son back. Which was refused, I asked again and my brother walked away with my screaming child in his arms. That was when I snapped and said “Please respect my child’s feelings. Now give him back to me.”My child was shoved into my arms, he stopped crying almost immediately and my brother stomped out of the room.

I was shaking angry and scared. That day the reality dawned on me, that I am my child’s voice, but I have been compromising him for the sake of family and my needs to not be rejected. I was angry at myself that I was so scared to cause a scene or a fight, that I did not protect my child. It took me almost eight hours, of a screaming child and then nursing said child, to finally not care that I upset a family member.

We so desperately want our family to love our child. We so desperately want the approval of our family members, that we forsake the very child, who needs us more, we and compromise on their needs, wants and feeling of safety and autonomy. A few weeks later, my brother informed me, that he can no longer love my child because of the way that I spoke to him, and the fact that I restrict the interaction (read when my child cries I step in and remove my child from the situation), he no longer feels like he wants to build a relationship with my son. That moment was when I found the words for what I have instinctively been fighting for and against. That very moment it became crystal clear.

To them, my child is an accessory to their happiness. He has to respect their needs. My child was not a human to them, but a means to stroke their ego and have their own needs fulfilled. My child’s need to feel safe and okay was not even secondary on their priority list, it just never featured. They wanted to be known as the uncle or grandparent who could calm the baby down. The uncle or grandparent who could make the baby smile. The uncle or grandparent who gets to brag about how cute this baby is. My baby became the the collar for their own self worth and I became the obstacle to their selfish drive.

They were taught no different while growing up. They could not see their behaviour as wrong, because that is just how things are suppose to be done. A child has to fit into the family, the family does not have to create space and change for the sake of the child.

From that day forward I had to learn how to be brave enough to set boundaries and accept the backlash it caused. With every boundary I enforced, I could see my child grow stronger in his own voice and he became more confident. I wish I could say that I never stepped into that compromised, scared and angry place again. That I always put my child first when dealing with the family. I stumbled on this new terrain of rejection and struggled as I grew. However I did grow and my voice became louder and prouder.You may ask, why is it an issue when we compromise for the sake of family?

It is simple really. While we teach our children to be afraid of stranger danger. We teach our children that their bodies are their own, unless it is a family member who just wants a hug, or just wants a kiss. We tell them especially at the infancy age, when they literally can only cry to announce their needs, that their needs does not matter when it comes to older family members. We try to keep the peace and ignore the cry for as long as we can stand it, because we are scared to make the family member feel unloved or scrutinised.

We allow our family members to override our parenting, because we are scared to be “that” parent, or we are scared to be ostracized by our clan. Our drive to belong creates an environment where we compromise our children’s sense of autonomy, safety and self, all for the sake of peace.

We don’t realise that we are teaching our children to compromise themselves for the sake of belonging. We teach them to compromise their safety for the sake of others. We look at the world and ask why do children so easily forget the values we teach them, yet we taught them that the core value of their personhood is compromisable for the sake of belonging.

Children and babies are not responsible to make adults feel loved and happy. It is not their responsibility to be brag worthy. It is adults’ responsibility to make kids feel loved, protected and safe. It is adults’ responsibility to listen and adhere to the rules of personhood. Adults need to learn to respect children as whole human beings and that their NO and STOP has the same value and power as that of an adult.

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