A radio blares away as I write. I stop listening and carry-on writing. Likewise, I ignore the television in the room next door. Somehow, I even ignore my phone beeping messages. Because I'm used to background noise, I stop hearing it. When we nag our children, they stop listening. "Do this. Do that. Don't touch that. Get off that. Go there. Get Down. Leave that alone. I told you......" Our voices become background noise to our children. They stop listening. And so we get frustrated and carry on nagging.
Successful parents set boundaries, so that children feel safe and know what to expect. Children need boundaries. Boundaries tell children where they can and can't go. Boundaries speak for you. Boundaries tell children what to do, and what not not do. Successful boundaries replace the need for nagging because they do the talking.
These are some of the boundaries we had when the girls were growing up:
1)We ate meals together at the table.
2)We watched movies at the weekend only.
3)We went for a family walk every Sunday.
4)The girls waited until they were 14 to get phones/computers.
5)We weren't allowed to call each other mean names.
6)When the girls were young ( up till about aged 11) the nightly rhythm was dinner, bath, story and bed.
Boundaries are similar to the rules of a game. Think of a game you like. What are its rules? A big part of the pleasure of a game is knowing the rules, and pushing against them. Tennis players can't just pick-up the ball and throw it at the ground, anymore than darts players can chuck a handful of darts at the board and expect to win. Each game works because of its own particular rules.
When we nag our children it's because the boundaries are not clear. Nagging is like constantly repeating the rules. A few reminders here are there, are O.K. But constant nagging wrecks the game. If you played a game of football but were repeatedly interrupted with reminders of the rules, the game would be ruined. It just wouldn't be fun.
Just as every game has its own rules, every family has its own boundaries. They'll be different for each family. Today, when I asked Finley about waiting until she was 14 to get a phone, she said: "it felt unfair. All my friends had phones. I understood the reasons- you didn't want me hooked on social media- you wanted me to make real friends. But still, it felt unfair." Finley told me that she wanted to be heard- she felt that I wasn't listening to her. When she was 14 she wanted a conversation about the phone boundary, that helped me understand how she felt. We don't always get it right. Boundaries can and should change as children get older. Conversation is crucial. Parents must work hard to listen and truly hear what their children need. Sometimes we get it wrong.
Point the way.
Use gestures instead of instructions. A lot of nagging can be avoided by simply pointing and gesturing. As a school teacher I played the Glockenspiel when I wanted silence. This saved my voice shouting out: "Be Quiet. Listen. Or worse, shut up." When you're with children all day, these small changes make a huge difference. I avoided: "be quiet, it's story time." Instead, I played a simple tune on the recorder. All the children knew what this meant. It saved my voice, and their ears. I used simple gestures for sit down, shoes on, brush teeth, wash hands, drink water. They all saved me much bother.
Boundaries and gestures reduce daily nagging. But stories and conversation are the magic ingredients. As a parent you have a wonderful opportunity to be a story teller. Children love stories. From books, by heart, or made up - stories show you at your best. When you tell a story you give your full attention to your child- your words are generous, kind and loving. Stories can repair the damage done by nagging. Because they give children something they want to hear, stories restore your voice.
If children aren't listened to, they stop listening. Children want to be heard. My youngest daughter Freya could talk ten-to-the-dozen. But after teaching all day, I was tired, and found it hard to listen. It helped me to simply repeat back what she said. Reflecting back is a well known counselling tool. Try it with a friend or partner. Get them to ask you. What's important at the moment? Then ask them to listen without interrupting or commenting for 5 minutes. Then get them to repeat back what you said. It's wonderful to be listened to.