Me(the parent): Leela, look at all the mess you have created. FIRST, YOU SHOULD finish cleaning up. Only then you can go out and play.
Leela(the child): GET ME MY SHOES.
Me(the parent): Hey that’s not how you speak to adults or anyone. That’s a demand. You ought to request respectfully.
The mother in me didn’t notice the subtle hypocrisy in my above statements and the expectations I have from my daughter. It got surfaced, during a discussion in my daughter’s classroom as I was spending my weekly volunteering time in her class.
That day one student said to the teacher“ Now, read the story”. The teacher immediately noticed that it sounded more like a Demand than a Request. She didn’t reprimand or shame the child in front of the class or demand respectful behavior in return. She rather realized there is an important teaching or conversational moment there.
The teachers discussed that generally, people are willing to help others. So if we ask others to do something for us, in a kind, requesting manner, using a pleasant/requesting tone or using words like please, more doors open up for us, and there are high chances of them agreeing to our request.
On the other hand, if we ask for the same thing in a demanding tone
The other person’s immediate body and mind’s reaction feels constricted. Some might feel anger, sadness, or disgust with our way of asking them. And they feel like NOT helping us, even though initially they wanted to.
And then there was a long discussion on
i) How the same thing can be framed in a requesting tone or a demanding tone even without the use of the word, “please”?
ii) And in what situations do adults, friends, and others use a demanding tone( like to avert a dangerous situation)?
iii) And how sometimes, even though you are using a requesting tone, the other person may not want to help you? ( like if you and your friend are both sitting in the same spot and you ask your friend to bring you something from across the room.)
Kids were asked to start noticing their statements and that of others and to observe how they feel.
I loved this whole conversation, how different scenarios were discussed and how the role-plays among the teachers, with live examples, and facial expressions were shown. And for how long the conversation continued when children slowly opened up, sharing their examples, how they feel in different situations, and what would be their responses, etc.
I loved how it didn’t end with a quick corrective statement — “That’s not how you speak to Teachers”.
For me as a parent, there was a powerful lesson to take away.
I have noticed that if my daughter uses such a tone of demand, I am quick to correct her saying “ Leela, that is not how you speak. You ought to be kinder and more respectful. “
Whereas I was oblivious to my demanding tone so frequently being used with my daughter when I want her to clean up or in any situation when I feel she isn’t listening. I switch to a demanding tone in a jiffy and sometimes some of her actions, warrant a demanding tone, at first instance.
But these tiny humans learn a lot from observing us, and how we treat them and other people around us.
A few tricks that can be handy.
As I was analyzing the situations where I use a demanding tone with my daughter, I noticed that it is when I want her to do something, whereas her mind wants her to do something else.
Giving a Choice!
- In many situations, I realized by giving her a choice helped me avert a demanding tone. For example: If she doesn’t want to clean up when I ask her to, I could give her a choice, about when she would like to clean up. And she would come up with a different time, and I can make her answerable for the commitment she has made without the use of a demanding tone.
- Giving a choice in most of their actions, in everyday life, also makes them feel that they have some control over the things in their life. This feeling of being in control also in turn relates/kicks into their motivation. Charles Duhigg in his book, Smarter, Faster, Better discovers this is a big difference between people in, compliance-based cultures and in commitment-based cultures.
Strategy # 1 and # 5 from the book Whole Brain Child
- At times when our kids are experiencing big emotions, our Commanding and Demanding may not result in an expected outcome. Instead, we could rely on connection and redirection. First through connection acknowledge the child’s big emotions, tune in and resonate with their feelings. And only after that, once they are ready and calm, can you redirect them to the logical solutions you have in your mind for their big emotions.
- When our kids are experiencing big emotions our Commanding and Demanding can push them into a further negative spiral. Sometimes, a simple physical movement(Moving) helps them reconnect/integrate parts of their brain(Before losing connection). So prompting them to take a quick walk or a run or any fun movement can help them regain control over their senses and hear us out.
Being OK, with NO as an answer.
- We as parents, accepting the fact that children saying No, is a healthy and normal sign helps reduce a lot of battles. Through No, they are testing and pushing the boundaries which is a natural way of understanding their surroundings. Also, saying No, helps the Children develop their own sense of personality.
I learned that I am going to be more conscious and observe my tone when I am having a conversation with others and with my daughter. Is it dependent on the situation alone or does it change with the kind of people too?
Within the family, we can don the role of tone police/ create a playful game around noticing when one is using a demanding voice with another.
My daughter doesn’t learn only from observing us parents, but that is at least in my control, and which I surely know will have some influence on my daughter.