My second son recently turned two. Friends have commented that my first son skipped the terrible twos. They presume my professional skill set will get us through them again. I don’t fancy my chances. This series of articles presents ten tips for negotiating this time with small ones. Know that with every strike of the keys, I remind myself that advice is easy to give and hard to follow. I will be attempting to practice what I preach this coming year: wish me luck!
(Our son picked up the nickname Egg early in life).
In our house in the early morning, his name can be heard going off like an alarm clock, at regularly intervals, shouted by one or other of the adults or his brother. He carries on regardless. We increase our pitch, our volume, the urgency of our tone, to no avail. It is possible to get to a level where he will respond, but that is a pretty similar level to the one that will send the neighbours around knocking on the door and asking us to keep it down.
In other words, calling his name is not an effective way of getting his attention. Or rather it was, but we wore it out.
Imagine how quickly you would tune out to the sound of your name if people called it at you all day for no reason. You are a busy person, you cannot waste time engaging with people who are shouting at you for the fun of it, you have stuff to be doing. This is precisely how he feels too. He is busy threading beetle beads onto a little wire twist tie. The blaring of his name from the neighbouring room, where we are trying to do breakfast, make packed lunches, find shoes, means little in his world.
There is a school of thought that views this exchange in terms of rules – the rule is children should answer to their name, and if they do not, then they are being naughty. But imagine the scene from his point of view, there is no malice in his threading of beads onto wire, there is no intent to anger, there is no intentional naughtiness there, he is not being naughty. In fact quite the opposite: He is calm, quiet and concentrating.
What has happened is a miscommunication. Communication is an act between two people. Imagine meaning as water, and communication as the passing of water between a cup in one person’s hand and a cup in another person’s hand. Our repeated bleating of his name is as effective as repeatedly chucking water over our shoulder, we have considered only the output, not the receipt, of the message. Sadly for two-year-olds when communication goes wrong they tend to get the blame.
Align-attune-invite is an alternative to the name blurt. It is a good one. It works. Do I always remember to do it? Nope. But I am trying, and if you would like to try it too here’s how. At first glance it will seem more time consuming than just calling their name, but in practice it is far more time efficient as it works, where as repeatedly calling their name just gets you stressed and them into trouble.
Go to them, and get involved with what they are doing. (The more sincerely and accurately you do this the quicker it is). So with my son and the beads, I would go and kneel by the sofa with him, pick up a bead myself and begin threading. I would not interfere with his threading, I do not want to be the great ‘clodhumping’ adult thundering in and trampling all over his play. I just go and thread too. I talk about what I am doing. “Ooo, beads. Does it fit on here?” I’ll copy things he says, so for example at the moment when he manages to get a bead threaded he will say “I did it!”
Once in the activity with him I will try to attune myself to where he is emotionally. Noticing whether he is calm and focused, or excited and wired. I am not doing this to change that state, I’m doing this so I can time the next part of the process.
From within the activity, aligned and attuned with him, I will create an invitation to what I need him to be doing. Creating an invitation is about inspiring curiosity not delivering direction. An invitation to curiosity tends to be more effective than directions (and, at this age, it is also more effective than reason, which we will explore in a later article). This is because an invitation to curiosity offers an extension of what you are already doing, where as a direction proposes a cessation of what you are doing. I might build the ground for the invitation through comments I make whilst still in the activity, so for the example of him threading beads, when what I need him to be doing is putting his shoes on ready to go out. I might comment whilst I thread my beads that I have my shoes on, and then notice aloud that he does not.
The attunement is an easy step to miss but it is vital for this being effective. If I simply went over, threaded beads and said “get your shoes on” he would be entitled to be cross. Imagine if you were texting someone, and your partner sat down beside you and also began texting someone, and then ordered you to get your shoes on! But if I am there, in the beads, as interested as the beads as he is, and feeling the ebb and flow of his emotional landscape, then I can pick just the right moment to say “I wonder where your shoes are?” Pause to let the wondering sink in…. “Can you find them?” and off he races. (Extra tip: let them make the first move, if you get up first you change the invitation into a direction and it will back fire)
Align-attune-invite also has the advantage of making you feel like some kind of zen child-whisperer, rather than the red-faced ragged-nerved overwrought parents of the name yelling!
About the author:
Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.
Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in
mainstream and special school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.
Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”, “Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”, “Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings”, “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia” and “The Subtle Spectrum”. Plus three inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Spike and Mole”, “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I” which all sell globally and her son has recently become the UK’s youngest published author with his book, “My Mummy is Autistic” which was foreworded by Chris Packham.