Years ago, I picked my 2 1/2-year-old son up from daycare and heard from his teacher that he had bit another toddler earlier in the day. Now, in defense of my son, he had been bitten by this other little boy numerous times leading up to him biting back. Even so, I knew I had to talk with him in a way that a 2 1/2-year-old could understand about why biting is not acceptable and what behavior I expected of him in the future. We drove home from daycare talking about everything else regarding his day other than the biting incident.
When we got home, I went to sit in a rocking chair in our living room and invited my son to come and sit on my lap. He climbed up and settled in. As we began to rock in the chair, I told him that he needed to tell me what he did to the little boy in daycare. He looked at me with tears forming in his eyes and said, “No, Mommy. I don’t want to.” I calmly encouraged and reassured him. I told him I just wanted to “talk about it.”
After a bit more nudging, he began to tell his version of what happened. I listened as I held him and rocked. When he was done, I told him it was his turn to listen to me. First, I thanked him for telling me what happened. Then, I told him what I expected him to do differently the next time something like this happens to him. I checked to make sure he heard and understood what I said. When he confirmed with a, “Yes, Mommy”, I told him we were done “talking about it.” He got off my lap and ran off to play. We never talked about the incident again.
I really didn’t think much more about this particular interaction with my son until another incidence arose that required us to “talk about it.” Like the last time, I asked him to sit on my lap in the rocking chair and the conversation unfolded like the one before. Except, this time…
When the conversation was over he got down from my lap, looked at me and asked, “Mommy, is this the ‘talk about it’ chair?”
I was speechless. I didn’t realize that’s what the rocking chair meant to him. So, my fumbling response was, “Yeah, I guess it is the ‘talk about it’ chair!” He ran off saying, “Ok, Mommy!”
There were many more conversations with my son, and eventually my daughter, in the “talk about it” chair over the years. And, as they outgrew sitting on my lap, the “talk about it” chair became whatever chairs were nearby. It didn’t matter which chairs we sat in. They knew that when we sat down to “talk about it” the experience would be similar to all previous conversations.
I would love to tell you the “talk about it” chair was a well, thought-out parenting strategy on my part. But, it wasn’t. It just happened…accidentally.
Isn’t that how parenting really is, though? A lot of times it just happens accidentally and in the moment – with no pre-planning or thought on our part. Sometimes we accidentally get it right. Other times, we accidentally get it wrong.
I’m thankful I accidentally got it right with the “talk about it” chair.
The “talk about it” chair established a sense of trust and respect between my kids and me. It let them know they could talk to me about anything on their heart and mind and sometimes, even confess when they did something wrong before I even knew they had. I couldn’t always promise our conversations would end without a consequence. But, I could promise they would have the opportunity to talk as I listened and that I expected the same back from them.
Little did I know how important those “talk about it” chair conversations set the stage for the adolescent years when the conversations became more challenging with my kids. As with any teenagers, the older they got, the harder it was to keep open communication with them. But, having a foundation of positive communication before the teen years carried us through the difficult years. It still wasn’t easy, but it was easier.
Establishing positive, open communication with your child early on reaps so many benefits. It leads to greater cooperation and feelings of worth for your child. It builds a stronger relationship between you and them. It makes using other parenting strategies, especially parental monitoring, easier and more effective. It forms the basis of good communication with other people as your child grows into an adult. It reduces the chances of them engaging in risky behaviors. The list of benefits could go on and on.
Every child is different and how you create open communication with each one might vary. However, there are some basic communication strategies research has found as being important and effective with all kids – especially when they are used early on. If you are wondering how you can establish positive communication with your child, then take a moment to learn more about these basic strategies by reading, Six Effective Communication Strategies to Use With Your Child.
Let it be clear…I am NOT a perfect parent. There were numerous times I accidentally got this parenting gig wrong. It’s when I had to put myself in the “talk about it” chair – openly admitting to my child what I did wrong, committing to what I need to do differently next time and asking for their forgiveness and patience. It was the hardest thing I had to do. I knew that if it was what I expected my children to do in the “talk about it” chair with me, I needed to be able to do the same with them.
The “talk about it” chair is still in my home even though my kids are all grown up and have homes of their own. It continues to be a reminder of all the conversations we had during their early years and the conversations that moved to other “talk about it” chairs as they grew older. It is also a reminder of that one time, after getting home from daycare with my 2 1/2-year-old son, I accidentally got it right as a parent.