How to Talk So Katy Will Listen

As a communicator by trade, I tend to assume that I’m competent at getting my point across to people in a meaningful and engaging manner. The humbling reality of parenthood, however, is that everything I think I know about communication adds up to a big fat nothing when my audience of one is an especially wilful 2.5 year old on a bad day.

Everyone loves the cheeky face in photos and no one believes the depths of tyranny lying behind that adorable grin.

Everyone loves the cheeky face in photos; no one believes the depths of tyranny lying behind that adorable grin.

I’ve been reading this book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talkhere is a non-affiliate Amazon link – and it’s been surprisingly helpful. It’s just too easy to default to the thinking that Katy’s toddler tantrums are proof that she’s too little to get logic and reason, which isn’t necessarily true, and the authors of this book have good insights into how some seemingly-simple principles can form the basis of more constructive interactions with kids of all ages.

The past couple of days have been a case in point. Katy has had a high fever and it’s been really trying for all of us to deal with. We had to go to the A&E today, because the GP close by kept us waiting for two hours before he referred us to the hospital and declined to see Katy at all (seriously…), and that was especially rough on Katy given the unfamiliar surroundings and people. But we talked to her a lot about what was going on: “Katy, the nurse aunty is going to give us some medicine now, and after you eat it you’ll feel a lot better” etc. And it helped. Even if we stated simply that we had to put away Daniel Tiger (on the iPhone) because we were going back in to see the doctor, that would stave off the seemingly-inevitable tears at having the TV programme taken away.

I'm just sayin', someone got  far more than her usual screentime quota today...

I’m just sayin’, someone got far more than her usual screen-time quota today…

After the hospital visit Katy was still pretty delicate: though her equilibrium was slowly coming back as the fever subsided, most small setbacks or disappointments would set her off in tears. So I tried even harder to put the communication tips into practice. When she put her feet into her toy cooking pans and tried to walk in them, I bit back the standard “that’s dangerous, take your feet out NOW” and said, “Katy, the wok is for food. Are your feet food?” She giggled NO and then removed her feet. It didn’t stop her from trying again but there were no tears or tantrums – always a win.

By bedtime Katy was pretty wrecked. She’d had a slightly strenuous time on the potty as a result of not having gone yesterday, a slight nosebleed, and overall fatigue from the fever having kept her up last night. I produced the syringe of fever medication after her bath and she went NUTS. “NO NO NO NO. DON’T WANT MEDICINE. NO.” I attempted to reason with her – no joy there – and was about to administer the meds by force when I came up with one last attempt towards ‘engaging cooperation': “Do you want to take the medicine before your milk, or after your milk?” She calmed down and said “after milk”, so I resignedly gave her her bottle, fully prepared to wrestle the paracetamol into her mouth afterwards.

… can you possibly fathom the extent of my surprise when Katy finished her bottle and chirped: “It’s medicine time now!”

If ever I were required to produce proof that a two-year-old can be meaningfully engaged with, this would be it.

I would caption this "talk to the hand, mother" but I would like to steer clear of making self-fulfilling prophecies.

I would caption this “talk to the hand, mother”, but I would like to stay well away from making self-fulfilling prophecies.

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