Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Often children’s difficult behaviour is caused by insufficient sleep and an overuse of computers and other digital technologies. Michael Hawton has already helped over 100,000 parents successfully manage their children’s difficult behavior. His new book Talk Less, Listen More helps even more parents with simple tools to teach their kids self-control and set reasonable boundaries.

As a parent (7 year-old daughter) and step parent (11 and 15 year-old boys) it has also assisted me in developing clearer boundaries and consistency for our family unit which has enabled more fun, laughter and unity.” Kate Histon, Byron Bay

While it’s not news to parents that over-tired children are grumpy and hard to live with, new research has shown that a wide spread increase in behavioural problems in children is caused by over-stimulation of computers and mobile phones, particularly at night. This leads to children getting less sleep than they need which impairs attention and results in irritability and poor school performance.


A new book, Talk Less, Listen More (out 1 July) by Michael Hawton, family psychologist, parent group educator and father of two, outlines straightforward methods to manage this increasingly common problem.

In Talk Less, Listen More, Michael Hawton acknowledges that many parents are worn down by arguments with their children. They end up feeling frustrated and are unsure what to do to bring the situation back under control.

Mother of two and Speech Pathologist, Nicole says, “I have been using Michael’s parenting methods with my children for almost 7 years. It has helped my kids keep the magnitude of their reaction more in line with the issue that has upset them.”

Hawton’s book offers parents of 2-12 year-olds fresh, easy-to-implement strategies to manage their children’s difficult behaviour and to help their children learn to apply their ‘mental brakes’. Children with better impulse control, or brakes, have been shown to better manage their emotions and to make better decisions, which are important skills for successful adult life.

Talk Less and Listen More draws on the latest research from neuroscience and uses stories of a fictional family to explain how parents can encourage self-regulation in their children. Many parenting methods rely on rewards and punishments to help children behave well. Think of the TV series The Super Nanny. While Hawton accepts that these methods do have a place, he believes parents can do more to help their children develop the internal capacity to manage their own behaviour.

Talk Less Listen More encourages parents to exercise leadership and take charge, without yelling and fighting with their children. Setting limits around the use of technology is just one of the ideas parent will gain from this book.

According to the Australian Centre for Education in SleepTM, (www.sleepeducation.net.au/sleep%20facts.php) primary schoolers need 10-12 hours of sleep per night and high school students need 9–11 hours. Obviously, it is better for parents to set in place some routines around technology use early in their children’s lives, but if your children are older, don’t fear – there is still time to take action and put in place healthy limits.

While parents of younger children should be providing their children with firm but warm boundaries, parents will find they need to adapt their strategies as their children grow older. Hawton’s Talk Less Listen More provides parents with a structured process for talking through contentious issues with older children.

“We have to remember that most people are trying their best with what they know,” says Michael Hawton. “They have been told they still need to be positive with their kids but then they don’t know how to pull their kids up when misbehaving. Straightforward methods such as those in my book assist greatly in these situations.”

“As parents, we need to keep our emotions in balance. This means keeping our cool when our kids are acting up. Easier said than done, I admit. But, if you know what to do instead, it’s much easier,” he adds.

“Parents can teach their kids to apply their ‘mental brakes’ when they become upset. 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 to 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 ’and staying calm. Some difficult behaviour can be diffused by ‘listening more’ to their child and paying closer attention to their child’s emotions.

“Often parents are fearful about making their children feel upset. They worry that their child won’t love them anymore. But if parents want to prepare their children for adult life, they need to teach them how to handle their feelings when they don’t get what they want. Children need to learn to apply their mental brakes. The children who don’t get this practice, don’t know how to put their brakes on. It’s as simple as that.”

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 fulltime, 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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