29 Dec NY Resolution- shout less!
“Stop shouting!”, I shout at my children. Hmm. There must be some irony here, but while trying to get my three children out of the house at 7.30am, the irony is lost on me.
Like most parents I spend my days juggling children, work, house admin and the various other commitments we seem to get ourselves involved in.
I also do not get enough sleep. This is through no fault of my children however. I am entirely to blame. I like staying up to watch rubbish TV once the children are in bed and chores are finished.
As a result, what my poor children and patient husband end up with is a frazzled, half-demented, crazy woman barking at them at the slightest indication of tardiness or things not going quite to plan. This translates into spending most mornings screaming at everyone and huffing and puffing in a passive aggressive way at my husband (who doesn’t do drop offs because he has to be at work – in the cold light of day a fairly reasonable excuse, but in the 7am-7.30am red mist, totally unacceptable).
I then spend the journey to nursery and then breakfast club apologising to my children for my appalling behaviour. Explaining to a one year old, three year old and five year old that “when people don’t listen mummy gets a bit stressed and then shouts. She shouldn’t shout, and she is very sorry for doing so. But in future could everyone please listen and do as I ask when I ask that would be great”. (All in the third person because this is bizarrely how I speak to my children when I explain something tricky about my behaviour – a topic for another blog.)
Recently I have started to reflect on how I talk to my children and my husband.
I listen to my children mimic me and my husband when they talk to each other, from the adorable “well done, that is really good colouring/building/drawing/writing!” or “are you ok, do you want me to kiss it better?”, to the more worrying and guilt-ridden “can you all stop making noise I have to make an important work call”, “are you kidding me?”, and the frankly shaming “oh, shit” . Do they therefore shout because I shout?
There is a body of empirical research into imitation and the role of imitation in the development of a child.
It starts almost as soon as a baby is born, two to three week-olds have been found to imitate tongue protrusion, mouth opening, lip protrusion, as well as simple finger movements. The research shows that infants are carefully watching our actions and committing them to memory. And what they see influences their behaviour even after long intervals. Our babies are learning from us.
According to a paper by Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington:
“Relative to most other animals we are born “immature” and helpless. Our extended period of infantile immaturity confers us with benefits. It allows us to learn and adapt to the specific physical environment into which we are born, modifying our dress and shelter accordingly. Also, it allows us to learn about the social environment. We organize ourselves into more different kinds of social groups, different cultures, than other species. Human cultures differ in terms of food, beliefs, and customs. Evolution’s trick is that we are born to learn.”
An important element of that learning is imitation. And this is why we see ourselves reflected in the behaviour of our children. A common example is the toy telephone. According to Meltzoff:
“There is nothing “natural” about holding objects to our ear while we speak to invisible people. However, our babies use toy telephones in this manner. They also pretend that other objects, like bananas, are telephones. Why do Western babies act this way? It is not due to maturation, trial and error learning, or independent discovery. It is attributable to imitative learning. Babies watch as we drop everything and dash to pick up the ringing telephone. Some of us carry telephones in our cars, on our belts, or in our purses. They must be important objects to command so much attention, so they are among the baby’s favorite playthings.”
Our children also remember observed behaviour for some time.
An experiment with 14 and 18 month-olds showed that they can remember and imitate behaviour four months after having witnessed the behaviour. And it is not just us that our babies imitate, the research suggests that they also learn from their peers and the TV, and imitate the behaviour they observe.
This explains why my children refer to everyone as “guys” (me), or “mate” (my husband), and have a tendency to say “chip chop” when we are running late (my husband). This also might explain why my children shout.
So my New Year’s resolution is to be more aware of how I communicate with my children and my husband. Specifically my aim is to shout less. I just hope I remember this at 7.30 in the morning.