Episode 37: Teach Your Children (to Communicate) Well

When I was 10 years old, I asked my Gran for a ham sandwich. Her ham sandwiches were legendary. The ham was sliced so thin, you could practically see through it, and she would layer the slices like ribbons, and drape mustard and mayo on the top layer. She was also very pro- Wonder Bread (something my mom was not).


It was heaven on earth.


But on this particular day, instead of pulling out the ham and wonder bread, she reached for her purse, and pulled out a $10 dollar bill. She said, “I’m out of ham, but you can run across the street and get some more.”


I was stricken.


I felt like Frodo when he found out he had to take the ring and toss it into the cracks of Mount Doom.


Gran said, “You can do it. Just ask for a quarter pound of honey baked ham, and make sure it’s ‘chipped’.”


How was I going to remember all of that, and how was I going to make sure the butcher knew what chipped meant? Was that a real butcher thing, or just an Irish butcher thing left over from her childhood?


And not only that, would the butcher be able to see me over the counter?


Would my voice carry?


Well, I wanted that ham sandwich, and it was only just across the street, so I marched over there and decided to give it a shot, my heart pounding.


As you can imagine, it went splendidly.


The butcher was charmed by my very precise butchering lingo (“chipped” was in fact, a thing), and he was supportive of my gumption and treated me like the little lady I was, especially because I used “please and thank you.” I was beaming when I came home. No sandwich has ever tasted as good.


Through the humble vessel of honey baked ham, my Grandmother gave me one of my most formative lessons in communication, and it was layered.


I had to summon courage, remember instructions, advocate for myself with a stranger, modulate my tiny voice to sound bigger than it was. And I was rewarded for it.


This is just one of so many communication lessons I received from the blessedly imperfect grown-ups in charge of raising me. Lessons that I worry are getting lost in this new generation of kids raised in our hyper-protective, hyper-achieving, hyper-connected, hyper-functioning families.


I interact with teenagers and young people on a fairly regular basis, and I’ve observed that some of the old-fashioned arts of basic communication are fading, and it makes me sad, but it also makes me worried.


Are we raising a generation of kids that don’t know the power of eye contact? Who are unskilled at talking to adult strangers? Who struggle with handshakes?


In our pursuit of material excellence, are we forgetting the value of understanding and developing skills around human connection and the art of self-advocacy? That connection is worth exploring for its own sake, not just because it allows us to perform well in a job interview

(although let’s be honest, if two equally qualified people walk into a job interview, and one knows how to make a good first impression and the other doesn’t, who’s gonna get that gig …)?


This episode is my attempt as a communication coach, to offer some tips, some ideas and some fascinating stories I’ve been gathering from other people whose kids impress me, communication wise.


And I want to make a clear disclaimer: I don’t have this figured out. I’m MID experiment with my kids. Only time will tell if we’ve had any real success, but teaching our kids to communicate well is a major priority for my husband Sal and I, and if it’s apriority for you too, I think you’re gonna dig it. You can listen here.


Here’s a list of resources mentioned during the episode:


·      The Thirty Six Questions That Lead to Love In the episode, I talk about Arthur Aaron’s study on intimacy, and how a series of questions lead people to greater closeness, and even caused some to fall in love. Fascinating … the power of asking a good question, and then listening long enough to take in the answer.

·      Love & Logic Parenting Course In the early days of my experiences as a mother, I went to a few of these workshops and listened to hours of Love & Logic lectures in pursuit of an approach to discipline that didn’t involve yelling or threatening. This course made me the mother I am today. Well, that and the incredible support of Mulberry School in Los Gatos, CA.

·      Niraj Chokshi at the New York Times wrote an article called Your Kids Think You’re Addicted to Your Phone which sheds light on what kids really think.

·      Amanda’s Podcast Pics My guest Amanda has her daughters “pay” for their iPhones by listening to a few curated podcast episodes each month. Here are the episodes she referred to during our conversation:

o   Naomi Riley - Author of "Be The Parent Please" on Kids, Tech and Parenting

o    TED Talk – Cameron Russell: Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m a Model


·      The Still Face Experiment This study will stop your heart. It demonstrates the effect of a neutral or “still face” on a child. Spoiler alert: it has a negative effect, causing elevated cortisol levels (that’s the stress hormone). It has been suggested that when we fail to engage or make eye contact with our kids while they’re speaking to us, they experience it as “still face.” Take a moment to watch this, and you may never look at your smart phone the same way.


·      And bonus … I didn’t mention these in the podcast episode, but there are two books that had a lasting impact on me as a mother:

o   The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.

o   Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen


Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to this episode… props to everyone who shared their stories with me as I researched this episode, especially Cathy Mee, Del and Colleen France, and Rouchand Bush, and a super thanks to  Holly Schnaars and Amanda Townsend who were game enough to let me record their lovely voices and brilliant ideas.


Shine on, you crazy diamonds.


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