Bad Habits in the Way We Communicate With Children - A Closer Look

Updated: Mar 1

The Evolution of Habits in Parenting.

Becoming a parent can stimulate a shock wave of anxiety, doubt and an ensuing phase of deep self reflection. This is a natural (albeit terrifying) process that ultimately leads to a transition: from flaw-ridden prenatal self into the parent paint brush who's every action places a permanent stroke on the canvas that is our child.

Let's face it, we all have those habits that we try time and time again to overcome;

Tried to stop biting your nails? -  Life's too full of "nail-biter" moments.

How about that addiction to social media? - Got it back after only 2 months...

Got into a set bedtime routine yet? - You bet I haven't!

Should we really expect that a baby could push all of these difficult goals over the line? Well, I'm certainly not ashamed to admit that my nervous nail-biting nature has spiralled even more out of control since becoming a dad.

So here's the simple truth and some sound advice. It is impossible to completely re-write ourselves no matter how hard we try to be rid of every one of our bad habits. Our children most likely WILL take on some of our faults. That's OKAY; being imperfect is beautiful - it makes us strive to be a better person than we were yesterday.

HOWEVER, not all bad habits are created equal. The most self-destructive of habits are often the least apparent and creep up over time to tarnish our relationships in ways that we never truly intend - including those with our spouse and children. These are communicational habits - specifically the way in which our language evolves with our relationships.

A 2013 survey of health professionals by lifestyle experts at Your Tango gave communication issues as the leading cause of divorce (at a whopping 65%) followed closely by a couple's inability to resolve a conflict (43%). In my opinion the two are not mutually exclusive and the study indicates that an alarming rate of relationships are irreversibly damaged by deteriorating communication and hence trust.

"Just" drop it! - The word with dangerous subtext.

In my experience one of the most dangerous words - that I have now vowed to eradicate from my vocabulary - is "just". This seemingly harmless word, when preceding a verb, can have an underlying feeling that is synonymous with guilt and deceit. It is often (mostly unwittingly) used to conceal a secondary objective.

Let me explain with a little context. My partner and I adore spending time with our blossoming toddler (and each other) when we're not putting bread on the table; we share the load of parenthood admirably... But where is the ME time? That is a very brave question: one that has so unfortunately fallen into the realms of taboo in an era where social status rules. ME time is nevertheless a constant desire for many parents and partners who eventually fall upon "just" as a means to justify their absence.

Here are some of the most popular examples used in our house and what they REALLY mean:

1. "I'm just going to the toilet" - and I'm going to spend the next 10 minutes sitting there catching up on social media.

2. "I'll just go get your water bottle/tooth brush/pyjamas" - Finish your bath with *insert mummy or daddy* and l'll return when you're ready for sleep with said item.

3. "What are you eating?" - asks the curious toddler as they enter the kitchen.

"Just some almonds" - replies the flustered parent shoving the last of the chocolate into their mouth before the toddler has a chance to see it.

All of these examples are true breakdowns in healthy communication.

Firstly, because parenting can too easily explode into a competition of who can sit on the toilet the longest (yikes).

Secondly, because even very young children will pick up on the fact that you left 15 minutes ago to get a bottle of water; or that you're just hiding round the corner frantically trying to check the latest basketball game score (okay that one is only me).

My partner and I are the perfect example of parents who value good communication as one of the biggest ways that we can influence our daughter's future positively, but still have to periodically step back and take a good hard look in the mirror.

We can speak reflectively on moments where we feel abandoned, not knowing how long a simple task will really take. Other times we feel anxious and frustrated when such activities cause delays to the progression of our day's activities.

For example, simply "just putting some clothes on" can take 10 minutes. That's 10 fewer minutes in the park for our poor daughter and more importantly 10 extra minutes that we have to live without our morning coffee fix!

The true horror of communicational habits lies further ahead than most of us dare to look. One day your little bubble-loving monkey will grow into a big, scary teenager; the last thing you want is for their language to be riddled with hidden objectives because they feel like it is better to be sneaky than risk being judged (after all you didn't even trust them to grant you 10 minutes to yourself). Now, close your eyes and picture every movie or series you've ever seen that features a teenage girl who effortlessly lies to her parents that she's "just going for a sleepover at Sally's house". Yeah, right...

A Solid Solution.

Routine is our greatest friend. Toddlers thrive on it - so would we, if we gave it a chance. So go ahead and agree on a time of day when your partner is free to step up and give you a much-needed power break.

Bath time is my moment to shine - I am the (self-proclaimed) splish splashing imagination sensation! We first calmly explain that mummy is having "Mummy ME" time with plenty of cuddles and assurance that mummy will return as soon as the last splash is splished. Then we all share bedtime stories together and I get my own ME time while mummy puts our daughter to sleep.

Without my ME time, I would never have written a children's book, or started this blog. It helps me to grow personally and feel a sense of accomplishment. That success helps me to appreciate the busy working-parent (or stay-at-home parent) lifestyle instead of resenting it. Several studies have backed up my own experience.

In essence, the studies summarise that solitude in the workplace increases productivity and that constantly being surrounded by social or demanding people can be hindering to progress and goals. While few of these studies directly tackle personal achievement around the demands of parenthood, it would be reasonable to assume that the results are transferable.

It doesn't sound like much, but even getting one little tick off your personal to-do list can lift a huge weight off your shoulders and really enlivens the couple time that comes after all the world's children float off into dreamland.

There is no denying that the value of ME time is critical to both personal mental health and healthy relationships. Introducing that concept to our children early on (when they are literally being programmed how to communicate for the rest of their lives) will help them to not shy away from it in later life. Who knows, such skills and values could equip them with an early detection system for toxic or belittling relationships. For even more benefits of ME time, there is a great article in Forbes by Amy Morin titled 7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone.

Bottom line - be honest about your desires. One day your children will most likely desire the very same thing, whether it be personal achievement, ME time or simply a piece of chocolate. Right now you probably wish that they will always have those freedoms - so take the lead!

How has the language in your relationships developed over time? Which communicational habits would you change in yourself or a loved one? Let me know in the comments!

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© 2019 by Shaun Bartlett