One of my favourite movies is a movie starring Samuel L Jackson & Kevin Spacey called THE NEGOTIATOR. It’s one of those old-school crime thrillers, and in the film Kevin Spacey is this masterful FBI hostage negotiator.
Now the reason I tell you this is because some days – as a parent of two small boys, aged 5 and 3 – it feels like I AM the negotiator dealing with a bunch of terrorists in my own home!
Now… maybe your 9-year old isn’t committing serious acts of violence (except against his sister) and your teenager probably isn’t going to set up a barricade (except maybe in her room with the music on full blast), but what I’ve come to realise – and what science is revealing to us now – is that many of the principles that are effective for dealing with bank robbers and evildoers also actually work with your children!!
In fact, these fundamental principles of communication can actually help you deal with ANYONE.
And really it boils down to one thing. BEING KIND. Simply being kind to ourselves and to our children. Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
I know for me when things get a bit chaotic and out of control, I tend to RAMP UP. In our house we call it – “flipping our lids”. And so when the kids start to whine or act out or play up – I start flipping my lid. And I usually come down hard on them. I forget to be kind.
And it never helps. Never.
So what are these techniques that parenting experts and hostage negotiators can teach us – teach me – that can help make for a more peaceful, happier home?
Well the first one is this:
1. Don’t deny their feelings.
Just imagine the scene…
The FBI has the bank surrounded. But the robbers have taken hostages. It’s a tense standoff and the bad guys are demanding food be sent in. They say they’re hungry. The hostage negotiator lifts the phone and says, “Oh, stop it. You just ate. Stop complaining and cut it out!”
An FBI negotiator would never do that. But parents do it, I do it, with my kids all the time. And the result is often more screaming, more tears, and more hysteria.
So, what’s the problem here? Well, it’s denying their feelings.
Remember all pain is pain, and the pain of not having the toy you want is as painful for a two-year-old’s brain as it is for us when we don’t get the job we want.
Now, as a parent you can’t be overly permissive and give a kid everything they want – of course not! But a hostage negotiator wouldn’t do that either — maybe the bad guys get the food when they ask for it and maybe they don’t. But negotiators wouldn’t say, “You’re not hungry. Cut it out!”
Now as parents we have to deny ACTIONS (“No, Will, you cannot play with that steak knife”) But we often take it a step further and deny what a child is FEELING. And that can be infuriating.
Human beings don’t like this. I don’t like this. You don’t like this. I mean have you ever told an angry person to JUST CALM DOWN. It doesn’t work does it?
SO what do I do? Well I can start by acknowledging their feelings. Then, according the negotiators, I:
2. Check Myself.
That’s the second key. What is going on with me? What am I frustrated about? Is my reaction appropriate to the offence? I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time, if I’m honest the way I treat my kids has a lot more to do with my own internal state of being then anything else. If I’m in a rush and the kids are taking their time getting their school bags ready, then I tend to get agitated with them and speak harshly to them. But if i’m not in a rush, then I usually speak a lot more calmly, more kindly.
The difference is entirely with me, not them. SO check yourself before you respond. Even that split second of self-awareness can make all the difference. We can only offer to others what we ourselves have, and so if we want our kids to develop self-control – well then we have to model it for them. H Jackson Brown Jr says, “Live so that when your children think of fairness, kindness, and integrity, they think of you.” Then finally, the third tip from our FBI negotiator counterparts is to:
3. Listen with full Attention.
Oh wow – thats hard right!? You’re tired, its been a long day, the kids are literally behaving like terrorists and all you want to do is make it STOP. SHUT IT DOWN. And that’s when we pull out the intimidation techniques or the threats. Sometimes those may be necessary, but they’re not the only tools in the toolbox. Most of the time, if we simply listen with full attention. Hear what it is that is stressing them out, making them angry or whatever, we realise we can actually solve the problem or at least diffuse it.
But full attention takes effort. It takes time and patience. Which brings me to my conclusion…
In my opinion – and this is just my opinion – we cannot do this without God in our lives. Really. If we want to be kind to our kids, if we want to give our kids the full attention and love they deserve, if we want to be in tune with their emotions, well then we need God. Desperately and intimately. Because walking in the spiritual fruit of self-control is – at the end of the day – supernatural.