In just a few moments, having a meta-conversation with your child can create wonders that you may have already concluded could never occur. In general, children less than fifteen years old are still in the testing and formatory stages of Box building. The structure of their Box is still being determined. After fifteen years of age, the Box tends to stop evolving and start crystallizing, unless a person is brought through some kind of rite of passage where they become cognizant of and take responsibility for having a Box. A child has more flexible habits than an adult. When you, as an adult, initiate a conversation about the conversation with a child, the child will usually slip right into the new conditions with an easefulness that would startle most adults.
The reason adults fail to create meta-conversations with children is not that the children cannot go there with them; it is that the adults avoid functioning from the perspective that the conversation that is happening right now is not the only possible conversation that could be happening right now. We adults tend to defend the original options that our Box allows us to see, as if these were the only options that could be seen. So, when a child-adult conflict arises, the adults shift into a power struggle using physical size, physical strength, age, position, role, education, or financial status as weapons to overpower the child into submission.
Isaac Asimov used to say, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” The adult’s particular incompetence in this case is the inability to “go nonlinear” – that is, to not assume that the present conversation or struggle that you are having right now with your child is the only possible conversation that could be happening.
In fact, many other kinds of conversations are available, and waiting for you to enter. All that you as the adult need to do to get there is to start a meta-conversation. If you start a meta-conversation, the child will tend to join you immediately in the new world opened up by the meta-conversation.
Not only that, but the child will learn how to go nonlinear and make meta-conversations themselves in their lives. I still remember when my daughters, in their early teens, first started using meta-conversations on me and their mother to create what they really wanted for themselves instead of being trapped by the limits of what their mother and I could imagine was best for them.
The children will use this ability for the rest of their lives. An important element in successful communication with children is your ability to listen.
The adage, “Children are to be seen and not heard” runs deep in our culture. When children are not heard and are also not given boundaries to work with, they will take over spaces and do anything to get adult attention, even if all they get is negative attention.
When we make our cursory attempts to listen to children and find them speaking nonsense, we only strengthen our commitment to the adage. You can discover richness and depth in your communications with children (and with adults) when you use meta-conversations to distinguish between babble and authentic sharing.