For the purpose of this blog-post I found an article titled “Scientific Studies Explain the Best Ways to Talk to Children”
about how to talk to children and what is interesting about it is that it is based on scientific research based on forensic interviews done with children who have either witnessed crimes or experienced crimes being done unto themselves. So it basically focuses for example on techniques to get children to ‘open up’ and ‘tell the truth’. The starting-point of the article is therefore focusing more on ‘how to get kids to talk’ rather than investigating how to communicate WITH children.
But what is mentioned in the article is the following statement that we will be using as a point of departure in this blog-post:
“Really, what the research says is that all of these are true. What kind of response you get is dependent on how you act, though, not on the kid.”
As I’ve mentioned in the two previous posts, what I have found in my work as a teacher as well as from my own experiences as a child, children often have a much more commonsensical, practical and direct outlook on life than we as adults do. And therefore what tends to happen is that we superimpose our own experiences onto children, believing that we must protect them – when in fact it is ourselves we are protecting. And so within this, for a child it often feels like the adult is holding something back, isn’t telling the whole story and doesn’t actually speak with us like human beings, equally existing here with the ability to understand what is going on. Teaching and parenting situations often become awkward and artificial because we as adults tend to go into a role of “now I’m talking to a child” where we aren’t actually with them here in the conversation sharing ourselves unconditionally but instead are focusing on talking to them with the aim of achieving specific results.
I’m sure many of us can remember how it felt like being interrogated when our parents asked us how school was and I know that many parents experience it as frustrating to have to almost drag the information out of one’s child. “How was school?” “Fine” “What did you do today?” “Stuff” – lol that’s kind of how such conversations often go. And what I have found is that a particular reason for this is that the adult actually isn’t asking from a natural and unconditional interest. Rather there are secret and often subconscious agendas that we aren’t even aware of ourselves, but that the child instantly picks up on. It therefore isn’t so much about what we say but about ‘whom’ we are within it that matters. If we aren’t genuine, the child picks up on it. If we’re coming from a starting-point of fear and worry, the child picks up on it.
And what the researchers found in the forensic interviews was for example how children would mold their answers in an attempt of pleasing or satisfying the adults – essentially because the adult is engaging in the conversation with the child from a starting-point of wanting to get something out of it, for example wanting to have their fear and worry for the child soothed. So that is the first suggestion I would give to anyone working with or communicating with children: to clear oneself of any expectations or desires for a specific outcome within the conversation. Rather practice the point of simply being here unconditionally with the child, giving the child but also oneself the opportunity to share and express.
Yesterday I was with a group of fifth and sixth grade students. We are doing a project about newspapers and so I had brought a newspaper for them to look at. They immediately became interested in a story about a mother and her son being abducted. So we talked about the story and I read it out loud. And something that I noticed was how they were genuinely interested in the story and what had happened to the mother and her son. Children are often way too shielded from what’s going on in the world and to some extent we must obviously shield them (I for example wouldn’t have shared this story with a group of first graders) according to their level of understanding and maturity level, but at the same time what I have found is that children already know a lot of what is going on, even when we think and believe that they don’t know or don’t understand and especially when we try and hide things from them.
Have a look at the following example: when a parent is experiencing fear and worry, for example towards their financial situation, the child asks about it and they then tell the child that everything is fine, in best case scenario the child simply learns that adults lie and tend to lie to protect them. But the child might actually also learn from this to not trust what they see. Because as mentioned, children are masters as picking up on what we as adults experience, often even better than we do ourselves – but they also learn that they should trust us and to trust our words and so within that there is a disjunction between what we say and what we resonantly send out, leaving the child confused and conflicted about what is real or not.
What one can do in such a situation instead is to obviously first and foremost work with stopping one’s fear and worry – but then also to simply explain the point to the child in practical common sense: “Yes I have been worried about us not getting enough money this month, so this is what I am going to do to solve it.” Here the child not only gets included into what is actually going on, but it also gets to learn from the adult as an example that although we might experience worry or fear, we can direct ourselves to a practical solution. It can even assist the adult to actually look for practical solutions and not wallow in the emotional experience. But what tends to happen instead is that we convince ourselves that we’re protecting the child by not telling it what is going on and we believe we can actually hide what is going on from the child – but who are we really hiding from?
Within seeing and communicating with children as equals I have found that one starts to see them differently as well, as their unique expressions and perspectives on life starts emerging and become visible as one no longer sees the child as a ‘prop’ in the scenario one has fabricated in one’s mind. When I say communicating with children as equals, I obviously do not mean to ‘treat them like adults’ or to blurt out everything that comes to mind. But what we can do is respect the child as an equal human being and within that not assumes any artificial role or character. What I have found within doing that as a teacher and also from my own experiences as a child is that children learn a lot more, can expand themselves faster within their capacity and understanding of the world and it is a lot more enjoyable for both adult and child – establishing an actual real communication that even the adult can learn from.
I am fortunate to work mostly one-on-one with my students or with small groups of three as a maximum. This gives me a great opportunity to get to know the children and establish an effective communication with them. So what I simplistically have been working with is, as soon as I walk through the door to the classroom, my attention is unconditionally on the child. I simply let everything else go and I focus on being Here with the child. Within this I have found that every single child is unique and different in its expression. Some I have been able to establish immediate relationships of mutual enjoyment with, others not. And when the relationships aren’t enjoyable, I investigate whom I am as I communicate with the child to see where I can realign myself. This is a continuous learning process and as a teacher I have only just begun scraping the surface of what it means to communicate effectively with a child. But what it has meant is that really cool and fun moments have opened up where I have been surprised and where they have been surprised and they will share interesting questions and perspectives with me without me having to drag it out of them.
I can say that I genuinely enjoy being with children. And this is not because I am particularly good at it or because I have an inclination for working with children. I have simply practiced this point of being here with the child, being unconditional as I communicate and thus the moment is able to expand and new expressions can emerge or rather be given permission to open up that otherwise wouldn’t. Because what I see in a lot of adults and this is something that I have experienced myself as well is that we tend to find being with children very boring, as though they are a little bit retarded or a burden even, where we don’t listen to them and constantly think about being somewhere else, being on our phones or in our heads while focusing on our ‘role’ as a ‘parent’ or ‘teacher’ or ‘caretaker’.
What happens is that when we really engage ourselves in communicating with children, we also open up. And so what is actually boring about being with children, is not the child – it is ourselves, because we have limited ourselves and the situation into a one-dimensional and one-way communication that doesn’t allow neither child nor adult to expand or express unconditionally.
I also recommend reading the following blogs:
Education in the New World Order
Education is a Human Right
Deconstructing the Root of All Evil
World’s best Education is based on Equality
The Fall of our Education System
Application of Knowledge, is it being Fostered in ourEducational Systems? – Education Research Part 1