Over the years, I've read and reread one parenting book in particular while waiting for the chance to practice its principles on my first born. That book is "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (and Listen so Kids Will Talk)." The title says it all. I want our kids to listen AND I want them to talk to us. I also want to avoid the needless conflict that often arises when people just don't listen to each other and respond appropriately.
As I've mentioned, empathy is not my strong suit and this book challenges parents to develop it in droves. The biggest mistake that the book points out is that parents often deny a child's feelings in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Or try to distract them from their feelings. Or tell them how to solve their problems.
My sister turned me on to this book. And whenever I gripe about the latest conflict with Danny, she asks if I've read "the book." It is full of sample conversations between parents and kids, illustrating both the correct and incorrect approach. The kids always respond beautifully to the "correct" approach; you know, in complete sentences and corny language. Much like a sit-com, the situation is resolved with complete ease that you are certain would never happen in your own house.
I usually sigh and tell my sister, "Yeah, but he doesn't know his lines, Jax."
More recently, she gently told me "You know, he's not too young to try some of those suggestions." I had this in mind today as an all-too-familiar scene began to play out with Danny.
Danny was getting dressed in his room and decided he wanted to wear his beloved orange drum shirt with the matching orange shorts with the white stripes. He picked out this outfit on a shopping trip with Nana once. It's really that special. (I don't know why he has any other clothes. This is all he wants to wear.) I had just dumped the shorts into the wash, but the all-important drum shirt was laid out on the floor.
He began to whine. I could feel my whole body tense for battle.
"I have to wear my orange shorts."
"They're in the wash, Danny."
"No, they're clean. They're not dirty."
"Danny, they were dirty."
This could go on all day. Really. I decided to change tactics.
"I hear that you wish your favorite shorts were not dirty."
"Let's find a sports shirt to go with my other shorts," he says.
Shock. and. Awe. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, we set about to find a suitable sports shirt.
Sounds like he finally learned his lines, Jax.