Becoming Conscious of Communication with Children

Jaclyn Morton: close-up

Speech & Language Therapist and Mum, Jaclyn Morton, argues that we need to change the language we use with children who stammer.

I am a Speech and Language Therapist and Mum to two boys of 4 and 6. When working with children and teenagers who stammer I learned some wonderful lessons for being a Mum. 

The most important message was being conscious of the language I used. I learned the significance of being a partner in therapy, not an expert; to be open to whatever came up in the session and to see things through the eyes of the client. 

When I became a Mum, I realised that all of this is super important in my relationship with my children, in fact in any relationship. This is where my role as a Speech and Language Therapist merged with my role as a Mum, and where I was inspired to set up my blog ‘Life through Little Eyes’.

Unconscious messages

The blog features musings which I share with parents, on attempting to parent with respect through our children's eyes, rather than our own. It’s not easy! Without being conscious, we can often communicate from our needs, our fears or our own experiences of being parented. So often we may hear ourselves say to our child, "Don’t be sad", or "There’s no need to stress". This is because we don’t want to see our children unhappy or struggling, so we try and take it away because perhaps we are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. However, when we do this we take away their feelings and inadvertently give the message that sadness or worry, or whatever they are feeling, is not OK and should be changed in some way.

If we say to our child, "That was really great, you didn’t stammer when you spoke to Grandad", it certainly comes from a place of love but it also gives the message of "It’s not great if you stammer and I am not so happy when you do it".

We often let our thoughts of how we want things to be take over the reality of what actually is. If we relate this to stammering, if we may say to our child, "That was really great, you didn’t stammer when you spoke to Grandad", it certainly comes from a place of love and being pleased for our child but it also gives the message of "It’s not great if you stammer and I am not so happy when you stammer in front of Grandad". Of course, this is not the message we mean to give. 

However, if we take the time to look a bit deeper and address our thinking, then we can become conscious of the language we use and therefore the message we want to give our child. How are we viewing them? Are we wanting them to be different in some way? What is the thinking behind how we communicate with our child? If we are thinking our child is lazy then we get angry and say things such as, "I’m fed up of you leaving stuff all over the bathroom floor, expecting me to pick up after you!" Or if we are disappointed with how they are performing in gymnastics or football or whatever, we may say, "If you listen and concentrate harder you will be better!" This leads to disconnection and certainly won’t make our children be more compliant or want to help, or perform better or change. If we think we wished our child didn’t stammer, then this will arise in the way we respond when they do. 

To quote Peggy O'Mara, founder of the magazine Mothering: "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice."

Accept and acknowledge

So what I’ve learned so far on this very complex parenting journey are these two magic words: accept and acknowledge. Accept the situation as it is. When we try to change it, we are unconsciously giving the message that what our child is communicating with us is not OK. 

If we think we wished our child didn’t stammer, then this will arise in the way we respond when they do. 

When we accept in our minds we can then acknowledge outwardly to our child, without judgement: “You struggled with your words when talking to Grandad, but you kept going", or "You’re really upset you have to leave the park, I hear you, it’s tricky to leave when we were having so much fun".

It can be argued that acknowledging can make things worse. However, when we acknowledge we provide our child with the feeling of being understood, and in turn we are validating their feelings. It is so tempting to offer a distraction or a reward, eg, "If you leave the park now you can have an ice cream". However, by doing this we are saying no to big feelings and in a way we are controlling our child's emotions, often for our own gain: "Please let us let get out of this situation unscathed!" 

When we become aware of our conditioned thoughts, we can determine whether we are communicating 'our stuff' or whether we are communicating for the long term well-being of our child. It’s tough, but it’s a wonderful gift, well worth the effort.

If you would like to write something, or have an opinion you'd like to share for Your Voice, click here to find out how.

You might also like to read Dori Holte's article 'If I could go back in time'.

Become a member. Connect with others locally & online. Volunteer, donate & share your story to inspire others.