Democratic Underground

Talking to Conservatives and Other Children
December 21, 2001
by TrogL

I've got kids and I'm always looking for ideas on how to raise them. Sometimes I feel I'm being too strict, other times I'm being too leniant. Often, I feel that I have problems communicating at their level because my attempts to be reasonable with them often dissolve into shouting and tears. So when I discovered a book called The Gentle Art of Communicating with Kids, I thought I might find some answers. I was expecting advice on such mundane matters as how to get my kids to chew with their mouths shut.

No such luck.

In The Gentle Art of Communicating with Kids, author Suzette Hade Englin, PhD apologizes right off the bat:

"I'm sorry; I really am. But you can't afford to take that position. Reasonable as it seems, sensible as it used to be, tempting as it still is, you can't afford it. Not any more. Not if you'd like to have any chance to enjoy what are called your "Golden Years." Not if you'd like your children to be happy and successful adults." (pg. xii)

She points out that kids, by the age of 6, have learned everything they need to know about communication and language from you! And are using it to attack! You can spot it in certain sequences of words called Verbal Attack Patterns (VAPs). Here's some examples (capitalized fragments are shouted): (from pp. 37-40)

  • WHY are you always BUGGing me like this?
  • WHY can't you ever THINK before you open your mouth?
  • WHY can't you EVer do anything RIGHT?
  • If you REALLY loved me, YOU wouldn't TALK to me like that!
  • DON'T you even CARE if you're BREAKing your mother's HEART?
  • Don't you even CARE what people are SAYING ABOUT YOU?
  • EVen a LIBERAL should have SOME sense!

(On a side note, observe the frequent use of always, ever, even and should - classic "black and white" words.)

Here's how it works - bait, then abuse. For example:

If you really LOVED me, YOU wouldn't TREAT me like "DIRT!"

The bait - "You treat me like dirt."

The abuse - "You don't love me."

Your first clue that you're being attacked is the repetition of certain phrases:

  • If you REALLY loved me, you'd BUY ME rollerblades!
  • If you REALLY cared for ME, YOU wouldn't LEAVE me here ALONE all day!
  • DON'T you even CARE what this is COSTING me?
  • DON'T you even CARE about the war?

There's plenty of others - read the book.

The next clue is the emphasis on words. Note the CAPITALIZATIONS above. There's a big difference between "what are you doing" and "WHAT are you DOING???"

Finally, people using a VAP are uninterested in the response to the factual part of their question.

"What are you looking at?" "A website called Democratic Underground."


"WHAT are YOU LOOKING at?" "NONE of YOUR business!!"

Hear the difference?

Which brings up the next point. Dr. Elgin notes that most people have a primary sense. One would think that everybody's primary sense would be sight (except for the Blind.) It ain't necessarily so. Mine is hearing. I know a computer monitor is acting up by listening to changes in the high-pitched squeal of the flyback circuit. I can hear the panicky calls of a hard-drive before it crashes. My sister is the same way. She went blind and didn't notice - literally! She had a cyst pressing on the optic nerve of one eye. She went to the doctor complaining of headaches and the doctor pointed out that she'd gone blind on that side. She hadn't noticed a thing. A visually-dominant person would have freaked, instantly.

Look up two paragraphs. See where I typed "hear the difference?" That's a 'sound' person talking. My partner is a smell-dominant person. He says my analogies stink.

The point is, if you are attempting to talk to a child (or a conservative, often I can't tell the difference) and it's like two ships passing each other quietly through the fog (oops, another sound analogy), try and figure out what dominant sense they are using and switch senses.

But your best defence is something called Satir modes based on the work of Dr. Virginia Satir.

There are five modes:

  • Blaming
  • Placating
  • Computing
  • Distracting
  • Levelling

Blaming - "WHY do we always have to go to YOUR house? YOUR computer NEVER works!" (note emphasis)

Placating - "I LIKE to go to your house, but it's just not POSSible. Can't we just TRY mine? (note emphasis)

Computing - "Your computer would work better with a faster modem." (note lack of emphasis and use of analysis)

Distracting - Combination of all other modes.

Levelling - "I don't like going to your house. Your father scares me." (note lack of emphasis and factual information - the real truth)

To use Satir modes, you encourage the mode you want to hear. If you start blaming someone who is already in blame mode, it will spiral out of control. If you try to placate someone in blame mode, or blame someone who is trying to placate you, you're in an endless loop. If you're run ragged by someone in distract mode, you can't communicate effectively.

Ideally, the goal is levelling. If you can't get to levelling, you can use compute mode as a delaying tactic.

The idea is not to win.

The idea is to not lose.

It's not the same thing. If you win an argument, the other person often loses face. To many people, especially in some cultures, this is totally unacceptable and they will retaliate.

The idea is to either settle the matter like in an adult-like manner (see Transactional Analysis) by levelling with each other. If the other person is in no condition to deal with facts, you can at least attempt to calm things down by computing/analysis.

Of course it's difficult to do if they are bellowing "You are STUPID!" (which contains the fallacy of identication addressed in General Semantics) but if you can use 'levelling' mode get them to talk about specifics instead of blaming you for the sorry state of the Union, maybe both your lives will be a little better for it.

Try it.

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