Here is the transcript and summary of Páll Ólafsson’s talk titled “Be There For Your Child, Listen And Never Shout” at TEDxReykjavik conference.
Listen to the audio version here:
Páll Ólafsson – Social Worker
I sat in my office, almost hypnotized by this young girl I had met so many times before. She looked me straight in the eyes and said with clear and firm voice, “If I am supposed to believe in me, then you have to believe in me.” She had cut her arms with razor blades again.
I am a social worker in child protection, and in my work, I have met children who do not want to live. Children who do not want to live like this. Children who abuse drugs. Children who do not want to go to school. When I ask these children, why are you in this situation? They answer, “Nobody loves me. Nobody listens to me. Nobody gives me a chance, and nobody sees me who I really am.”
So the question I want to explore with you today is, what kind of people do we have to be so children don’t experience these feelings, so they don’t get lost in their lives? Can we do something so children don’t lose faith in us adults, so they don’t think that nobody cares? I think we can.
This talk is based on the wisdom I have learned from my wonderful wife, all of my five children, my co-workers, Diane and Judy, the creators of restitution theory, and last but not least, all of those interesting children I have met as a social worker.
Do you know what are the most important skills young people have to master when they leave the school system today? They are skills of communication, problem-solving, teamwork, talking, and listening. And remember, you should listen twice as much as you talk; that’s why you have two ears but only one mouth.
But these skills, are we teaching our children those skills, and if not, how can we do it? We have to use good methods guiding our children. Don’t ever use physical force, don’t scream, don’t shout, don’t preach over their heads, don’t point your fingers at them, “What have you done? Why can’t you be more like your brothers? You are useless. I knew this would happen.”
What will happen is that if you get too close to the child, they will try to push you away. They will give you the finger—not this finger—they will shout, “Go, leave, I don’t want to talk to you,” and they learn nothing.
Don’t blame children; you say something like, “What have you done? Don’t you know how much this is hurting me? Why can’t you be more like your sister? I can’t sleep at night.” Children who are hurt through blaming, they say it’s like having a stone landing in their stomach and they have trouble getting it out again. They turn down their heads and say, “Sorry, forgive me, it wasn’t my fault,” always trying to get the stone out and never learning anything.
Children don’t learn from saying sorry; they learn from being. They learn if you give them another chance and if you believe in them. So we should talk to children, listen to children, and if they make a mistake, we ask them, we give them space to fix it, not by saying sorry, but by doing something they can be proud of.
Let me explain, if I make a mistake and I have to talk to my daughter about something very important right now, right this minute, and I make a mistake, scream at her, or use an angry tone, then I have to relax and wait for a few hours, or even better, until the next day. Then both of us can use our brains to communicate, that is if I remember what this very important issue was, which I usually don’t.
Let me explain, all this has to do with our brain, our big brain, there we have all our experience, our capacity to fix problems, talking, and listening. If we are angry, upset, or scared, we can’t use our brain, it switches to survival mode, and we can’t use it to fix problems. This is a behavior from old times, very old times, even before the 60s when I was born.
You were going out on a prairie when suddenly a saber-toothed tiger jumps at you and wants to eat you. You can’t talk to it; I mean, this is a tiger and you are something—what happens? Your brain takes over the situation, it acts in split seconds, stops blood from flowing through your brain and delivers it to your arms so you throw your spear at the tiger, or through your legs so you run away from this beast.
It is the same reason today; if our children are upset, scared, or angry, their brain is in survival mode, and they can’t talk or listen. They just want to fight or flight.
Do you think words are important? Yes, they are, I mean I use them every day, I’m using them now, but when people are taking in what you are saying, just in your message, only 10% are just from the words you use. So don’t worry so much about what you say to other people. The rest is 35% tonality, how you use your tone, and 55% is your body language.
Let me show you. “Hello, daddy is home, so good to see you.” “Hello, daddy is home, so good to see you.” “I love you very much; we can fix this problem.” “I love you very much; we can fix this problem.” And you have to think about your arms and your face.
See, this means that you want to fix the problem. This means that you don’t. Children, they are so great at perceiving this, and if you have a closed posture, they close their minds.
Do you think children do what we tell them to do? Well, maybe your kids, but most kids, they do what we do, not what we say. That’s why no teens are wearing helmets when they are cycling. So show children how to fix problems, how to talk to each other, how to listen to others, show them your skills and how to enjoy life.