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Devon Corneal

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Can You Hear Me Now? Why Parents Can't Get Kids To Listen

Posted: 11/02/11 01:06 PM ET

I've been wondering lately if I might be fluent in Swahili. Despite lackluster grades in high school French, two less-than-stellar semesters of college German and a four-word Spanish vocabulary, I have the feeling when I'm asking my son to do something that I'm speaking a foreign language.

I can't remember struggling to communicate before I became a parent, but it now happens all the time. It's starting to make me a little nutty.

For example, a few weeks ago my son ignored me when I asked him not to whine. I found this confusing. I thought that "Please, stop whining," was a fairly straightforward request. But, like most of my recent requests, it went unanswered.

I'd ask. He'd ignore.

I'd find toys in every corner of the house instead of somewhere at least reasonably close to the bins and baskets they belong in (no matter how strategically-placed they were). I'd hear my son yelling to me (at me?) -- even when I'm only a room away -- about his missing fireman hat or his lost gloves. I'd give a really good answer to a really simple question ("Can I have more treats?" "No.") only to hear the same question repeated like a mantra for the next ten minutes. ("Can I have more treats?" "No." "Can I have more treats?" "No." "Can I have...").

I'm like the guy in the Verizon commercial: "Can you hear me now?"

For the record, none of the three boys in my house (a son, a stepson and the manchild I married) seem to have any trouble understanding phrases like "Dinner's ready" or "The cookies are on the counter," or "Sure, you can do [insert desired activity here]."

No matter how politely I ask or how harshly I speak, I sometimes feel like Sisyphus. I am sick of the sound of my own voice (as is everyone in a two block radius of my house). Einstein was on to something when he defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Asking a three year old to say please, eat his vegetables, walk instead of run, listen, stop throwing things, or share and then expecting compliance is a surefire path to Crazytown.

I started asking other parents if they experience the same thing. I'm not alone. My sense of solidarity grows with every conversation with an exhausted mother or exasperated father. Some have given up and resigned themselves to years of mindless repetition. Many are irritated. Others are confused.

We complain about trying to get our kids to calm down, sit still, be patient, answer a question, make their beds, or do their chores. We bemoan refusals to wear coats, do homework, eat breakfast, turn off the TV and remove fingers from noses. We cannot understand why our hard-earned wisdom and sage advice is ignored. As the mother of a small child, I'm horrified to learn that this will only get worse. My little baby will grow into the man who doesn't put down the toilet seat. I know it. I will love him anyway.

I should note that most of us are not pushovers. We are people who insist on good manners, enforce consequences for bad behavior and have at least one "look" that makes children's knees quiver. Yet, even we are stumped.

Those of us not beaten down by picking up another wet towel or wiping boogers off fingers have looked for a solution. We are the few, the curious, the hopeful. We talk about developmental stages, adolescent frontal lobe development and adapting communication styles to our child's personality or temperament. The bravest of us (who also don't care how pathetic we seem) post queries on Facebook and Twitter and comb through the comments for any glimmer of enlightenment.

How the hell did our parents get through this? I have tried to delude myself into thinking that "back in the day" kids of my generation didn't behave this way. My father assures me that I'm wrong. He also claims to take no pleasure in watching me struggle, but I'm pretty sure he's lying. He smiles too much when he visits.

All this explains why, in a fit of frustration one day, I asked a friend if it was possible I was speaking Swahili, since my son didn't seem to understand a word I was saying. (It has occurred to me that he just doesn't care, but I'm blocking that possibility out for now.) She responded that she assumes she's speaking French when that happens to her. That's when I realized the answer has been there all along.

We are speaking different languages. I speak Parent, my kids only speak Child. I can't believe no one has figured this out before. There should be a slogan: Become a parent, learn a new language, drown in a gulf of misunderstanding for eighteen years.

This is slightly depressing, but it also has a level of clarity I can handle. My kids aren't ignoring me. They aren't deaf, either. (This still doesn't explain why my husband forgets to tell me where he parked the car, but I'll figure that out in good time.) I am relieved -- I know where I stand.

Now, does anyone have a good Parent/Child dictionary I can borrow?

 

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