Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Instead of smacking or yelling at children or making threats that don’t work, find peaceful effective parenting strategies in Michael Hawton’s new book Talk Less, Listen More. This book empowers parents with simple tools to teach their kids self-control and help them mature, and well as helping parents keep their cool in heated situations! Michael Hawton has already helped over 100,000 parents successfully manage their children’s difficult behavior.

“I’ve read a lot of parenting books and this is the best one I’ve ever read. I have three kids that are each quite challenging in their own right. Talk Less, Listen More taught me about ‘inside out’ parenting. So now when my kids are acting up or getting frustrated, instead of focusing on them and their behaviour, I try to put myself in their shoes and focus on myself and choosing my reaction…. it’s definitely made a difference with my kids.” Anne-Marie, mother of 7 and 3 year-old sons and an 18-month-old daughter.

Family psychologist, parent group educator, father of two and author of Talk Less, Listen More, Michael Hawton acknowledges that many parents are so worn down by arguments with their children that they end up frustrated and lacking confidence in their parenting abilities. He believes that talking isn’t always the best way to solve children’s behaviour problems. And neither is smacking.

Released on 1 July, Talk Less, Listen More offers parents of 2-12 year-olds new, easy-to-implement strategies to manage their children’s difficult behaviour and help kids develop impulse-control skills – ‘their brakes’ – to improve their abilities to manage their emotions and control their behaviour. Impulse control has been linked to a range of successful long-term behaviours, including social maturity and academic success.

Many parenting models currently focus on ‘outside In’ parenting, where the parent controls their child’s behaviour through external stimulus such as rewards and punishments. These are the kind of methods often shown in mainstream media such as the TV series, Super Nanny. While Hawton recognises a place for these, he believes there are more effective strategies that can build children’s ability to manage their emotions and behaviour.

“I think it’s probable that most parents have smacked their children at one time or another,” says Michael Hawton. “They mostly smack out of frustration or because they don’t know what to do instead. We have to remember that most people are trying their best with what they know. They often know their children need limits but they don’t know how to enforce these in a calm way. They have been told to be positive with their kids but then they don’t know how to pull their kids up when they are misbehaving.”

“As parents, keeping our emotions in balance, means keeping our cool, too. Easier said than done I admit. But, if you know what to do instead, it’s much easier,” he adds.

So what should an exhausted parent do with an angry or upset child determined to get their way when all else has failed? Drawing from the latest findings in neuroscience and 25 years’ experience in his own practice with hundreds of families, Hawton’s methods in Talk Less, Listen More, provide an alternative he calls ‘inside out’ parenting.

“Kids definitely have the ability to apply their ‘mental brakes’ when they become upset so in Talk Less, Listen More I explain to parents how to teach kids about their emotional software and what parents can do to help their kids use their mental brakes and develop self-control,” says Hawton.

The journey to a more harmonious family life starts by helping parents to effectively deal with a child’s misbehaviour quietly and calmly by ‘talking less’. Often difficult behaviour can be addressed by parents ‘listening more’ to their child and paying closer attention to their child’s emotions.

Hawton says that “children won’t get the skill of ‘applying their mental brakes’ if we are too loud with them. If we lose our temper and have to shout or threaten to gain their cooperation, this is stressful for everyone.”

“Smacking, shouting and threatening might scare children into complying with their parents wishes but it does not teach children how to manage their emotions. In fact, if mum or dad are losing their temper, this is modeling for the child a way to deal with frustration,” explains Hawton.

“If mum and dad know what they can do to contain misbehaviour, then they can respond calmly. This helps children learn to apply their ‘mental brakes’, to control their own emotions and it also teaches children to take responsibility for their own behaviour. In the long run, this is going to be a skill that will help children grow into responsible adults who can deal with life’s frustrations without over-reacting.

Mother of two and Speech Pathologist, Nicole says, “I have been using Michael’s parenting methods with my children for almost 7 years. As a parent, it’s wonderful when you’re feeling totally at sea to have something to hold on to that works reliably. Using his methods has helped my kids keep the magnitude of their reaction more in line with the issue that has upset them. I also recommend it to parents frequently in my work as a speech pathologist when their child’s behaviour is a barrier to their development. It’s quite hard to get this quality of resources; this book is a real opportunity for parents to have access to Michael’s work no matter where they are.”

“’Inside out’ parenting strategies are about helping children learn to mange their own emotions and behaviour. It helps them to develop the healthy self-control that they need to behave appropriately and create a successful life,” says the Byron Bay based author.

Through stories of a fictional family, Talk Less, Listen More explains the likely outcomes when parents try to implement new techniques, how to manage their kids’ resistance to change and how to stay calm under fire.

Michael Hawton has had a 25-year career in child and family therapy, which includes working as an expert witness in the NSW Children’s Court and for the Family Court of Australia, where he has prepared over 1,000 child welfare reports. He has trained over 6,500 family services professionals, both nationally and internationally, in how to manage children’s and teenager’s difficult behaviour.

ONLINE COURSE – Talk Less Listen More by Michael Hawton
from $29 http://www.parentshop.com.au/making-parenting-easier/

*based on the number parent workbooks sold over seven years


About Michael Hawton

Michael Hawton is a family psychologist, teacher, author and father of two. He studied teaching and went to Melbourne University where he trained to be a psychologist.

For most of his 25-year career he has worked in the area of child and family therapy. His career has also included working as an expert witness in the NSW Children’s Court and for the Family Court of Australia, where he has prepared over 1,000 Child Welfare Reports.

He lives in Byron Bay where he has raised two children of his own. Michael and his wife, Simone run the online parent resource company – Parentshop. Michael has trained over 6,500 family services professionals, nationally and internationally, in how to manage children’s and teenager’s difficult behaviour.

Michael currently travels around Australia to present professional development to family service professionals. His passion is to make a difference to the lives of children and their parents.

Learning self-control in the field of life

In his classic 1970s book, The Road Less Travelled, Scott Peck said that a sign of maturity is how well a person is able to regulate his emotional responses in proportion to an event that might trigger an emotional reaction in them. If someone pulls out in front of me in his car, just how mad should I get? If someone appears to queue-jump and I’ve been waiting a while, just how annoyed will I let this make me? According to Peck, the degree to which we develop an ability to balance our emotions with our ability to think proportionately about a triggering event is a sign of emotional maturity.

So, what might, at first glance, look like a blatant act of selfishness by someone, could just as easily be an innocent mistake. The driver who pulled out in front of me may not have seen me. Of course, in other circumstances, it may well be that people’s actions are selfish! But, before we can tell, we need to consider a few things, and it’s not useful to always jump to harsh conclusions.

Most children can learn self control if they’re given the right help. That is, they can learn to gauge and measure their emotional reactions to triggering events. And, the older a child becomes, the better he should be getting at this.

Some children (and even some parents) react in a 9/10 way to almost everything, even if the triggering is something minor and really only warrants a 3/10 response. Maturity is when we can respond appropriately, even when our emotions are heated.

Let me tell you my rugby story to show you what I mean.

Here’s the scene: the Wallabies are playing the All Blacks. There’s a roaring 80 thousand-strong crowd, TV commentators are up in the box and New Zealand has drawn the feed as a result of a knock on from an Australian back. It’s close to full-time, and Australians are in front by a whisker. The All Blacks are close to the Wallabies’ line. A scrum packs down, and very quickly the New Zealand second rower jabs a punch through the middle of the scrum, hitting his opposite number. The Aussie forward hits back and a melee breaks out. Punches fly, and it would appear that every forward is involved in the ensuing skirmish. But, after the dust has settled, the Australian forward is ordered to stand before the referee. Here is a 26 year old male, weighing over 105 kg and standing 183 centimetres tall. His body language communicates his emotional state. He is seething because he feels unfairly identified as causing the fight and he is just about to be penalised which will result in his team losing the game.

Inside his head, this player’s brain is going at a thousand miles an hour, between the part of his mind that wants to hit the referee or verbally abuse him and another part of his brain that is trying desperately keep some self control. This part of his mind is saying, “I’ll be suspended for life if I touch the referee. I’ll be sent off if I do that. I need to hold it together.”

In his mind, he is exercising enormous self control; I call this process toggling. This man is toggling between the part of his mind that is reacting (responding to an emergency) and the part of his mind that is putting on the brakes in a desperate attempt to ‘hold’ onto his emotions, or inhibit his emotional reaction to what has occurred.

Like the rugby player, we want to encourage our children to be able to use that part of their brain that allows them to hold their immediate emotional response and check their behaviour.

If a parent says, – ‘No, you can’t go next door to your friends’ place (because it’s dinner time)’ we don’t want him to automatically get mad and hit things or shout abuse at his mum. Rather, we want him to get better at exercising some level of self control. This type of self control in the child is a process similar to the one the rugby player is displaying. It is a process involving him quickly toggling between his emotional reaction (getting mad at mum for not letting him go) and arresting that reaction (which is saying, ‘Hold it together; it’s okay ’).

It is by teaching our kids to toggle like this, that we give them practice at learning the skills of managing their own difficult behaviour. But to toggle successfully, the children need to be reminded by parents or carers about what’s an acceptable reaction to a frustrating event. The process is one in which children learn to apply the brakes to their behaviour as the situation requires and to react proportionately to frustrating events.

by Michael Hawton, MAPS

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