A Conversation about Declarative Language and Co-Regulation, with Linda Murphy
For the past few years, I’ve been hearing about this concept called “declarative language,” and although I had an idea of what it was, after reading my guest Linda Murphy’s Declarative Language Handbook, I couldn’t wait to bring her on the show because it offers another transformational tool for our parenting differently wired kids’ toolbox.
Linda describes declarative language as a positive, thoughtful communication style that emphasizes understanding, patience, respect, and kindness, and as you’ll hear, it is an ideal communication style for neurodivergent children and kids whose nervous systems are triggered by demands or imperative communication styles.
Linda brings decades of experience as a speech language pathologist and RDI® consultant who has been working with individuals with social learning differences to our conversation. Specifically, we discussed the different ways we can communicate with our children, the language we use, and the effects that simple shifts in the way we have conversations can have in our daily interactions with them. We also explored what is declarative language versus imperative language, as well as the relationship between co-regulation and declarative language and why we should use them in tandem. This is a conversation that will truly change the way you think about how you communicate with your children, and leave you with easy ways to start playing with this in your day-to-day life.
About Linda Murphy
Linda K. Murphy MS, CCC-SLP is a speech language pathologist and RDI® Consultant. She co-founded Peer Projects – Therapy From the Heart, a clinic in Beverly, MA dedicated to helping kids and families by using a positive, thoughtful communication style that emphasizes understanding, patience, respect, and kindness. Linda has been working with individuals with social learning differences for over 25 years. She leads trainings on the topic of social learning, has authored Declarative Language Handbook, Co-Regulation Handbook, numerous articles, and co-authored the book Social Thinking and Me with Michelle Garcia Winner. Linda lives north of Boston with her husband and their two busy lovable boys.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What it means to use declarative language (versus imperative language)
- Why declarative language is so effective for neurodivergent children, and especially those who are demand avoidance
- Why declarative language is more effective when paired with co-regulation
- Common language and communication styles that place demands on kids that we may not be aware of (including questions)
- How to introduce declarative language communication and how it can support a child’s learning and development
- What we can hope to see in a child or an adolescent who has been on the receiving end of declarative language
- What to say instead of “Did you hear what I said”?
Resources mentioned for Declarative Language and Co-Regulation
- Declarative Language Handbook: Using a Thoughtful Language Style to Help Kids with Social Learning Challenges Feel Competent, Connected, and Understood by Linda K. Murphy
- Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Dr. Barry Prizant
- Barry Prizant Talks About His Book “Uniquely Human” (Tilt Podcast episode)
- Barry Prizant and David Finch Talk About Their New Podcast, Uniquely Human (Tilt Parenting episode)
Want to go deeper?
There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a sit back and absorb learner, a hands-on, connect and engage learner, and everything in between. Join the Differently Wired Club and get unstuck, ditch the overwhelm, and find confidence, connection, and JOY in parenting your differently wired child.
Debbie Reber 00:00
This season of Tilt Parenting is being brought to you by the Differently Wired Club. If you’re looking to dive deeper with me and get live personal coaching support, be part of an incredible parent community and focus on creating significant change in your parenting world. Check out my Differently Wired Club program. Doors open for a few days at the end of every month, Learn more at tiltparenting.com/club
Linda Murphy 00:25
Declarative language is a way of speaking. But co-regulation is a way of being so our words won’t matter as much if we can also just be present in that moment and meet our learner where they are. And it could be just in terms of their development, understanding where they are developmentally but also in each moment in time.
Debbie Reber 00:47
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and I have a great episode for you today. For the past few years, I’ve been hearing about this concept called declarative language. And although I had an idea of what it was, after reading my guest, Linda Murphy’s Declarative Language Handbook, I couldn’t wait to bring her on the show because it offers yet another transformational tool for our parenting differently wired kids toolbox, Linda describes declarative language as a positive, thoughtful communication style that emphasizes understanding patience, respect and kindness. And as you’ll hear from our conversation, it is an ideal communication style for really all children, but especially neurodivergent kids and those whose nervous systems are triggered by demands or more imperative communication styles. Linda brings decades of experience as a speech language pathologist who has been working with individuals with social learning differences to our conversation. Specifically, we discussed the different ways we can communicate with our children, the language we use, and the effects that simple shifts in the way we have conversations can have in our daily interactions with them. We also explored what declarative language is versus imperative language, as well as the relationship between co regulation and declarative language, and why we should use them together. This is a conversation that will truly change the way you think about how you communicate with your children. And I have a feeling you’ll walk away from this lesson with some easy ways to start playing with this in your day to day life. Before I get to our conversation, I have an important live event coming up next week that I want to be sure you know about. Jessica Lahey, who you might know from her wonderful book, The Gift of Failure, will be joining me for a crucial conversation about substance use prevention in differently wired kids. So just as newest book is called The Addiction Inoculation, raising healthy kids in a culture of dependence, and she is passionate about reaching as many people as possible with this truly life saving information. And she brings such humor and honesty and lived experience to the conversation. I know that substance use is a topic that can be uncomfortable to think about, but our kids will surely be exposed to and perhaps peer pressured into engaging in unhealthy substance use drugs or alcohol at some point in their lives. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about how we can best protect our kids. The additional risk factors for differently wired kids, how we can actually talk about drugs and alcohol with their children, and how to navigate it if we discover our child is engaging in substance use. So it’s all happening on Monday, April 3, at 7pm Eastern, but as always, the recording and resources will be available to everyone who’s registered. So to sign up for this special substance use prevention webinar with Jessica Lahey, just go to tiltparenting.com/prevention. Again, the live event is Monday, April 3 at 7pm. You can register and learn more at til parenting.com/prevention Lastly, if you want to dive deeper into this podcast episode, or any episode from this season, join my tilt parenting pod club on the fable app. Together, we can discuss and reflect on all the shows and share highlights, comments, questions, related resources and more. And it is completely free. To join my pod club and the discussions surrounding this conversation with Linda Murphy and declarative language. Just download the fable app on your phone or device and search for tilt parenting or go to tiltparenting.com/fable For a direct link. I hope to see you there. And now here is my conversation with Linda.
Debbie Reber 04:58
Hey Linda, welcome to the podcast.
Linda Murphy 05:01
Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Debbie Reber 05:04
I’m sure that many of my listeners are familiar with you and your work. But would you in your own words, introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about what you do in the world. And then your why for doing that work?
Linda Murphy 05:16
Yeah, depends how far back I want to go. But probably every part in my journey has mattered. But currently, I’m a speech language pathologist and an RDI or relationship development intervention consultant. And I got my master’s in speech language pathology, way back very present was one of my professors. So the seeds of what he teaches has always been with me and I value very much all his family centered work and ideas presented, for example, and uniquely human and even his articles way back from Autism Spectrum quarterly, like I, I really appreciate those in his teachings. And that’s my foundation. And then I found RDI, a little bit after grad school. And what I love that that brought was just even more so Family Centered practice and how to really include caregivers as partners in all that we do, as well as natural environment, learning opportunities, and just how to do things on the ground. So even taking theory, all these theoretical things out there and researching how to apply them on the ground with individuals that we work with. And then if I may, if you don’t mind, I’ll even go a little bit further back in college. I was a math major, so I wasn’t in this field at all. But after college, I worked with autistic adults and kind of found my calling in speech language pathology there. And I have always felt that my mathematical or analytical brain just kind of helped me, I view things analytically, but also my very, my heart is a big part of the work that I do. So just trying to always bring all those pieces together, caring, but also thinking about things systematically and objectively on the ground.
Debbie Reber 07:03
I love that that came through in your book, for lack of a better word guy was like, Oh, this is a fellow data nerd. I hope you’re not offended by that comment. I appreciated that you are very interested in what the data shows and doing further research on seeing really the impact of this work. Yeah, I really saw a lot of your analytical brain throughout this book. And also Barry Prizant, big fan of his here at Tilt Parenting and listeners, Barry is the author of Uniquely Human if you’re not familiar with his work, it’s just a wonderful book. And we’ve had him on the show a couple of times, and I’ll have a link to those conversations in the show notes. If you want to check them out. I learned of your work, probably first to my tilt together community where I just started seeing your name pop up. And then I’d see declarative language in various conversations. And so I got really curious about what is this declarative language? What’s going on here? And so I started looking into your work. And then of course, got your book. And everything just really resonated so strongly with me, personally, and feels in alignment with all the things that we talk a lot about here until it’s a respectful communication, and being curious about our kids and fostering relationship with them co regulation, all of those pieces. So I’m excited to really get into the work that you’re doing and this approach to language that you’re really trying to share with the world. So that would be a great place to start is, do you have a definition for declarative language? What is it for people who have no idea?
Linda Murphy 08:42
Yeah, so and I know I say this a lot in the book and and articles that I write, but just on the ground level, it’s commenting, and just really getting in the habit of commenting, rather than asking questions, and rather than placing a demand, which would be an imperative. So there’s a lot of ways that you can talk in a declarative way. You can get really complex depending on the developmental level and the readiness of the learner that you’re working with. Or you can keep it simple and easy. For younger learners. I think in natural development caregivers do speak declaratively, with their babies, with their infants, with their toddlers, with their young kids. So it’s a natural speaking style, even as language emerges. But on that very basic level, it’s just commenting. And again, the complexity of your comment is going to vary on many things. It’s going to vary based on your learner. It’s going to vary based on the context. But anybody can do it. You don’t need to memorize anything. The biggest part is being aware of your own communication, and start to notice when you’re commenting versus asking a question, or placing a demand.
Debbie Reber 09:55
Yeah, and you mentioned imperative and you even included a little bit of a grammar lesson in there, which I appreciated. So just to explicitly put out there, what imperative language is, can you just describe that for us and give us an example of what an imperative phrase would be?
Linda Murphy 10:13
Yeah, an imperative is a demand, or a command in the moment that asks the other individual to do something, or to perform in some way. So it could be to say something to do something. So examples might be stand up, sit down, say this, do this. But very discreet, it tells the person what to do, it tells the person what to say. But it really doesn’t give any additional information about the greater social context. It doesn’t get at any of the sooner I’m talking about what it’s not also, but it doesn’t really get it any of the language that we use to build relationships with other people. And it doesn’t talk about our observations together, our experiences, our memories, our ideas, our opinions, our future plans, it really doesn’t get at any of that wonderful communication that helps connect us to each other and build relationships and what it does, essentially, and I know we’ll get into this as it when it places that demand on our learners, it can trigger at times that fight flight freeze response, which as we move down the road might present as challenging behaviors to others maybe on understanding what’s going on. And you’re just seeing the end result.
Debbie Reber 11:29
Yeah, as you’re describing it, I think of it as being a very authoritarian way of parenting, like, put your shoes on, sit at the table, it’s time to leave, do this, do that. And it’s interesting, you brought it back to when we have infants or really little ones. That’s not how we talk to them. We do naturally talk in this more declarative way where we are curious, or we’re like, oh, look at the pretty bird in the tree. We’re already doing those things. But it’s interesting that it seems like at a certain point, we tend to shift where we expect our kids to be doing certain things, and when they’re not many of us, I think naturally fall into this more director of what should be happening in our families.
Linda Murphy 12:10
Right? Yeah, that’s exactly right. And it’s almost like as soon as the individual can do more on their own, maybe that’s when our communication shifts and places more demands on them. But yeah, if you even if you think back to kids, when their babies are young, you’re noticing that their focus of attention, maybe what they’re gazing at, you’re commenting on that you’re using communication to respond to their effect, that they’re showing you even something like, Oh, you’re not happy, or I think you need a diaper change that’s going way back. But I think it’s a communication style that is there at the very beginning. And then it shifts for some reason, maybe when we start to notice, kids aren’t doing what is chronologically expected in the neurotypical world, people get anxious or worried and start to place demands to try and get individuals to do more. And really let go of that communication that connects us and is the groundwork for learning to follow. It’s just that basis for everything, and it gets lost, which is always what made me sad. And when I realized how powerful declarative language was, and I got to see it myself, the book came in because I wanted to make a difference in the world in a way that I couldn’t. I’m not a researcher, not that I wouldn’t like research, I would, but I just don’t have those tools at my disposal. I’m just on the ground, clinician mom noticing these things, noticing the power, so then just decided to get it out there in the best way that I could. I feel really excited because the tide is changing. And more people are in tune with declarative language. But I first learned about it in 2007, while training to become an RD, I consulted and learned about the power of it then. So I’ve been talking about it since that time, and for a long time just felt like I wasn’t making a difference. But now I’m excited that it is making a difference. And people do see the value in communicating in this different way.
Debbie Reber 14:08
Yeah, I too, have seen or noticed a sea change may be a slow one. But I started Tilt almost seven years ago now. And the landscape is so different from when I first started doing this podcast and started doing this work. And that is really exciting for me to see. And there does just seem to be a lot more openness and curiosity about how can we better support neurodivergent kids and really meet them where they’re at even just the approaches to doing that. And so it’s more compassionate is more about CO regulation, it is with more understanding of the nervous system and you mentioned fight flight or freeze response. And so it’s exciting. One of the things you talk about this being really supportive for kids who have social learning challenges, how would you define social learning challenges?
Linda Murphy 14:56
Yeah, well, what I’m learning is that it’s important. It is really hard now in my language to even use social learning differences. So that I’m not assuming there’s only one way to be a social communicator in the world, there’s a lot of ways and they’re all equal. So in that way, social learning differences just, I guess, depend on who you’re comparing to, you know. So for me, maybe I can just talk about me and my lived experiences, because that is something that I know I can speak to, I would consider myself a neurotypical, but a quieter person. And for me, I feel like I am good at noticing nonverbal cues, kind of reading the room and emotional tone, perspective taking, I feel like that’s strong for me. But then maybe somebody who’s different from me, or individuals that I work with, that have a different learning style than me, I would say, sometimes things aren’t safe things related to perspective, taking or perceiving how others might be feeling in the moment might not be as intuitive to some of the individuals that I work with. And it’s not the of course, it’s not that they don’t care, or that they don’t want to learn, it’s just that information maybe is not as intuitive for that learner as it is for me, but I’m sure there’s plenty of things that they might be much stronger out that I am. And I guess at the end of the day, I feel anybody can learn anything, it’s just a matter of what you want to learn, and your openness to the information. And what’s important to me is that I’m trying to understand what other people are coming from as I teach or guide them to learn where I might be coming from. And it’s a balance, my ideas are not better or more, they’re equal. And I always am hoping that we can just understand each other better in the world. And in each moment in time.
Debbie Reber 16:56
As I was reading your book, too, I was thinking about the kinds of kids who would be most supported through this. I mean, I think all people would be, I think all kids would really benefit from parents using this very relationship based communication style. I was thinking about kids who have the PDA profile of autism, who may be that persistent demand for autonomy, or who may be really rigid and inflexible when it comes to demands and that kind of thing. So I would love to know, who you find is most drawn to the work that you’re doing in terms of the types of wiring and ways of navigating the world from a communication point of view, that can really be supported when parents embrace this style.
Linda Murphy 17:45
Yeah, well, any group of learners that are neurodivergent, I would say, like if we could use that, I’ve heard that it’s, although this wasn’t my intention, I’ve heard a lot from the PDA community that it’s very supportive and effective there. I think it’s really supportive with individuals who have diagnoses of ADHD, autism, twice exceptional nonverbal learning disability, oh, and executive function difficulties, like I think it also can come into play there. And now also neurotypical learners also respond really well to this style of communicating. And I think the thing about it is, one of the most important things is it puts it on us, the teacher, the caregiver, the therapist, to just own our own communication, and really think about how to share information with this learner in a way that they can receive it. So that’s why it can really be powerful for all learners, because we’re adjusting our communication to present it in a way that’s inviting, that’s positive, that’s guiding, that’s supportive. And that provides them the information that they really need in that moment. Like that. It’s good for everybody. But I also have heard that too, a lot of I’ve heard it’s just been really helpful as a general parenting book, even for parents and caregivers who are not in the same world that
Debbie Reber 19:11
I am. Yeah, I would totally agree with that. As you were talking, I’m thinking one of the tilts in my book differently wired is this idea of becoming fluent in our kids. And so I think this is a part of that is really understanding, as you said, how to communicate in a way that our kids will be receptive and really understand the meaning of what we’re saying in the best possible way. And I also love that it is this idea that everything is an opportunity to learn, like literally everything that happens when using this approach. It can become a way to learn to grow to make connections to develop more fluency. And so I think it is really powerful in that way. And I just want to say to the listeners, I feel like we’re talking around this a little bit and we are going to get into it. Give you some real specific examples of what declarative language is and how to start using this in your world. But I have one more question before we get to that. So when we were planning for this conversation you shared with me that you use co-regulation with a declarative language constantly and never one without the other. So could you talk about the relationship between declarative language and co-regulation?
Linda Murphy 20:21
Yeah, and when I think about co-regulation, I’m very specifically thinking about the definition. And Alan Fogle’s book Developing Through Relationships. I know that there is so much information about co-regulation and discussion from the nervous system perspective. But as a speech language pathologist, I like to think about it through the lens of social communication. And for me, what that means is just, we are meeting our communication partner in each moment in time and responding uniquely in that moment. So even if we connected to declarative language for a minute, imperative places a demand and therefore wants to direct the communication in a certain way, whereas declarative just comments. And as we meet an individual in each moment in time, with our heart with co-regulation, and then our comment, works alongside that we’re creating this environment where we all can truly be present in the moment rather than have a specific agenda, which can sometimes lead to power struggles, and all sorts of things. And I also remembered, I also just wanted to say the way I think about them together is declarative language is a way of speaking. But co-regulation is a way of being so our words won’t matter as much if we can also just be present in that moment and meet our learner where they are. And that could be just in terms of their development, understanding where they are developmentally, but also in each moment in time. Because as we know, there’s different things that can create obstacles to learning to communication, such as decreased interoceptive, awareness, sensory needs are overwhelmed in the moment fatigue, and we don’t know what’s going on for learners all the time, in terms of memories that they might bring to the table, they could have had a bad day. And that’s going to impact their communication at this moment in time, regardless of what we think they can do or did yesterday. So we meet our learners in each moment in time with co-regulation through that lens that I’m using. We always want to think about creating a competent role that is authentic in the moment that is contingent on our role. And again, like this is another concept that I always appreciate practice just thinking through through this lens of competent roles. Like if an individual is not joining me as I wished, or hoped that they would or anticipated, then I wanted to take a step back and think about, okay, how can I better create a role that they feel competent in in this moment in time. So I’m thinking about a role that I want to carve out. But then I’m also using declarative language to support that invitation in the moment. So I’ve just always wanted to have my communication, just right, positive intentions, giving individuals the benefit of the doubt, not placing demands with my communication, while also really being mindful of where they’re at in the moment. So I can create a role where they are competent, and are and therefore will be more likely to join or respond to my invitation.
Debbie Reber 23:22
It sounds wonderful. And I can imagine listeners being like, oh, my god, how am I going to do all of those things? How am I going to stay present when I’m being triggered and know the right thing to say and respond and be nimble enough to know that the kid I’m talking to today has different things going on than the kid I talked to yesterday? So just as a way to invite parents to be open to this and not putting that pressure on themselves? What would you say to a parent who, who’s curious and wants to kind of play with this or start experimenting with declarative language, but are feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of how they do it?
Linda Murphy 24:01
So I say all of that, just because mindset really matters. If you enter using declarative language or co-regulation, with an imperative mindset, which means you’re trying to get something it undermines what you’re trying to build, the mindset is important. So what I would say is when you want to get your feet wet, or you want to give it a try, then you want to also set yourself up for success. And just pick one thing to focus on. I think declarative language is an easier concept to learn in practice, because co-regulation becomes more dynamic. We all can only do one thing at a time, and that’s okay. So I would say start with declarative language and also start practicing or choose a time to practice when you feel that you can be present and can bring that positive mindset and intention with you. So that means perhaps you’re not going to first use declarative language when you’re trying to get out the door in the morning and you feel stressed and rushed or whatever, you’re also not going to use it for the first time when you know, maybe you’re feeling really dysregulated or frustrated. So you really just want to pick a time where you feel you have time and space to comments only. And also give processing time on the other end for the individual to process what you’ve said, and respond in a way that is unique to that moment. Sometimes I think driving in the car could be a good time, if you’re not rushing to get anywhere, it just could be a time that you practice using commenting only, or if bedtime, looking at books together as the time that you feel relaxed, that could be a good time to try or going for a walk. But I think those are the beginning pieces is just really pick a time when you feel available to be present. You can bring that positive mindset and intention. And it doesn’t have to be long. That’s the other thing too. You don’t have to when you’re getting started, you don’t have to talk to you in declarative language all day, because that’s hard, because it’s a shift. But really pick something where you have Okay, I have five minutes, I’m gonna give it a try. Or 10 minutes, I’m gonna give it a try and just see how this feels. And then things absolutely do build over time, but you just want to set yourself up for success. I actually have a post on my website, and I call, it’s just how to get started. And I just call it one exchange at a time. So really, you just have to think one exchange at a time. And that’s it. As you enter each exchange with your learner, you can think is this the time that I feel I can use declarative language instead of imperative, or that I can start to be mindful of my own communication and just take it like that. And it really does build over time. But it’s okay to start where you start. And it’s great to start one exchange at a time. So you feel successful.
Debbie Reber 26:46
Yeah, that’s great. I mean, I like this idea of low stakes situations, the reminder of not having an agenda. And I know that you also are a fan of Dr. Ross Greene’s work. And that is such a key piece of collaborative problem solving is not having an agenda, what you talk about in the book is that this is really about helping reduce power struggles with our kids, increase their self awareness, and help them be better able to self advocate. So those are the bigger goals as you’ve outlined them in the book. And that’s not about getting the shoes on faster, or getting off screens faster. That is really a zoom out approach, which is again, what we often talk about here at tilt is we’re playing the long game here, this is an overnight fix it flipping a switch. This is building skills over time. So I like this idea of just starting to play with it here and there and not putting this pressure on ourselves or kids that this is going to change everything overnight. Because that’s not the way this works.
Debbie Reber 27:51
I get emails every day from parents who ask if I offer private coaching. And while I don’t work one on one with parents, I’ve created the next best thing, a way to work with me, get live coaching, learn new strategies to support your family, and connect with other parents who totally get you all for a fraction of the cost of private coaching. It’s the Differently Wired Club, think virtual office hours and coaching calls, expert guests monthly themes, connection with other parents, an extensive resource library and much more. Doors open for a few days, at the end of every month, you can learn more at tiltparenting.com/club.
Debbie Reber 28:33
I’d like to get into some examples. If you don’t mind. First of all, I just want to say I was very pleased. As I was reading this, I was like I actually do this a lot. I don’t know why I have a friend who’s a Montessori teacher, and has studied nonviolent communication. And I see some overlap there. And just really noticing and observing. And I love that language. And you include great verbs that you can use in here. So maybe let’s think of not a high stakes environment, a situation where we want our child’s help putting their clothes in the hamper. I think you use that example in the book at some point. So what would that look like with imperative language versus declarative language?
Linda Murphy 29:15
Yeah, maybe what I’ll do as well is I can give a declarative comment. But then I can give an example of how we might also pull in co-regulation, or that partnership in the moment. So imagine there’s clothes on the floor. So the imperative is, put your clothes in the hamper. The question, which also places a demand is, what do you think you should do with those clothes? I think that’s important to keep in mind. Sometimes people might think, Oh, I’m asking a question. I’m engaging. But that question also has a right or wrong answer and places a demand. So it doesn’t guide with that same positive intention that we want. So a declarative statement could be something like hmm, I noticed your clothes on the floor. Or it could be something like I’d love If you put your clothes in the hamper with a positive intention, this is a funny example that someone in training mentioned that could be something like, those clothes look really sad on your floor. I bet they’d like to be with their friends in the hamper. So again, as long as you’re communicating with positive intention, not snarky or not where you’re trying to get something, but really where you’re being playful and fun. And then if the individual really needs a little more scaffolding, or partnership, beyond the declarative statement, it would be something like, Hey, I see your clothes on the floor. Let’s put them in the hamper together, I’ll hand you the shirt and you can toss it in. So something like that, where you’re just creating a fluid partnership in the moment, or you could hand it to me and I’ll toss it in something like that.
Debbie Reber 30:47
So good. So I wrote down no snark. So basically, no snark, no sarcasm, no passive aggressiveness, I’m assuming that would kind of erase the benefits of the declarative language. So it is about that intention or the energy behind it. I love this example. Because I’m even thinking I often will, I’ll ask, Would you like my help and getting your clothes ready for the laundry? But even now, I’m realizing it is a question that could place a demand. So I might say something instead, like, I’m going to go get my clothes ready for the washing machine? I’m really hoping to get the laundry done today. Is that a declarative statement? Are you okay? And you talk about pacing and the power of a pause? Can you talk about what this might look like, because we may not get the response we want from our kids.
Linda Murphy 31:36
So processing time is very important. And it’s going to vary for each individual learner, we might want things to be done quickly. But again, when we enter with that mindset, it’s a demand. It’s a time pressure demand, and it’s going to undermine what we’re trying to do. So some individuals, especially I think, when you’re just getting started, they might need a few seconds, like I remember the first time I used it with a client that I was working with. And I made a promise to myself that it was going to come to 30 in my head before I said anything else because I also didn’t want to prompt them too prematurely and I didn’t want to add more language that would just make the processing harder. So I remember what I had said to her at the time, she was hollering. And I sat down alongside her and I said, Wow, I would love to color too. And my old self would have said, Can you get me a marker or get me a marker or something like that. So I started to count, and I got to about 10. And she looked up and she said, I’ll go get you a marker. And she left went to a different room and came back and I was floored because I had no idea she could do something like that it made me realize that I also had not yet given her the opportunity to be a problem solver to come sit on my perspective to leave our space and come back in the same way without me being discreet or directive. So starting out, you might want to say okay, I’m going to come to 30 in my head before I jump in and say something else or do something else. And I would say those are good just for the daily routines or the things that you’re doing around the house. And so to thoughts, I’m going to go back to that in a second. But then sometimes processing time also could take a day, or it could take a week. So if it’s something that the individual has not yet been your partner in, so say for example, they don’t share the work of laundry yet. That’s okay. You just want to plant a seed and say, you know, I would love to teach you this. And I’m thinking maybe tomorrow or next Wednesday, whatever it might be, you and I can do this together. So sometimes really giving kids a day or a couple of days or even a week to think about things can be really, really helpful, because then you just give them that time to process it to own it to be ready for it. And when that invitation comes back, they’re much more open. But it’s because we’ve given that time to them to process that new information. Also affecting go into just how I always think about processing and what’s going on. There’s so many things that we’re thinking about at any given time when we do something and not to make it like overbearing again. But by putting a shirt in the hamper, there’s an observation we have to kind of reference our environment, we have to problem solve, we have to figure out where that item might go. We might pull from our episodic memories to remember the pattern of laundry and what really happens, we might also be considering the perspective of the caregiver like oh, this really matters to them. And therefore, it’s a good idea to do that, because I know it helps our family or our household. But there’s just so many pieces of information that when we make a declarative statement that we invite the learner to integrate and process and respond to, which is really important. Like that’s what we want everyone to be able to do because that’s what helps you become more independent in the world or be able to successfully meet different responsibilities or learn new things. things, but it’s really important for us to give our learners that time for all of those processes to take place, especially if they’re not yet used to it are in the habit of of being given the opportunity to integrate those all those pieces of information, they imperative doesn’t doesn’t lay that same groundwork, it tells the person what to do, it doesn’t invite them to engage those higher level thinking processes, which is really what we would like to create that learning opportunity for. So that’s why the processing times are important.
Debbie Reber 35:29
Yeah, I mean, as you’re explaining that, it’s clear, like an imperative just shuts learning down, it prioritizes our needs over everything else. And I think what you’re seeing, too, there’s a lot of things happening to integrate, to become a more flexible thinker to start noticing, to tuning and more to the environment to problem solving, multi step thing. So there’s a lot involved here, and it’s not necessarily going to be an observable change. Again, it’s not an overnight thing. What would quote unquote, realistic expectations be like? How does this play out over time, what would we hope to see in a child or an adolescent, that we’re really actively focusing on using this communication style with?
Linda Murphy 36:14
So I’ll go back just to that foundation, that ground level again, like our very first goal is we’re shifting the communication style from maybe one that’s been demand based and negative and power struggling to one that’s positive and inviting. That’s always what happens first. And then when everybody feels that shift in the communication, just everything changes, the dynamic is more open, the learner is more open to our input, we’re more in tune with their cues to know when to provide that new information or that new input. So individuals do become more independent, and that they’re able to take on more responsibility over time for whatever it might be. And where we get good is noticing when they’re ready for that responsibility and the pace with which to transfer the responsibility so that we all stay competent, successful. Or when there’s a mismatch, we also become the communicator or the caregiver, we become skilled at repair. And knowing that that’s okay. It’s okay if we had a mismatch, and I thought, you might be ready to do something. But in the end, it was too hard and you shut down, then I became good at using declarative language to prepare. And again, meet in the moment and travel forward. So I think over time, kids or individuals do become more independent, and that they can take on more and more responsibilities that we all agree are important. But again, the key is we become better, we become more equipped in knowing which ones to transfer and when, because we’re very much in tune with where they are in the moment in their development in each moment in time. And that’s why the growth just continues to happen.
Debbie Reber 38:02
Yeah, I like that you use this word invitation, you describe declarative language as an invitation. And I was just thinking that it can change our energy. So in addition to the fact that we want to intentionally show up and use this language in a calm, open relationship based way, the language itself can change our energy that we bring into any situation. And less than conflict, like I do think when I have noticed and observed to use some of those great verbs in myself that when I start using this language, it diffuses and it can change patterns of these are the same cycles that we’ve been in about the same issues. But when I shift to using more declarative language, it can really reduce my child’s anxiety, their defensiveness, that might happen right away, and it can really shift things in the moment. So I think that ability to lessen conflict can be something that we might experience more quickly, as opposed to the other growth that we’re hoping for our kids. And then that can create more momentum, and it just kind of builds on itself.
Linda Murphy 39:12
Yeah, and the other thing I think all of this creates is very much a partnership, where we are the guide, and the learner is open to our guidance. And once you have that anyone can learn anything as long as both people are in that mindset. I think where learning gets hard is when maybe the teacher is not guiding but directing. So it leaves less space for the learner, or where the learner is shut down to learning for various reasons, learning stops then. So when you use this style, you know, we are thoughtfully guiding, but our learner becomes open to that guidance, and that’s just a really important part of it.
Debbie Reber 39:54
I’m going to share the name of your book again. For listeners. It’s the Declarative Language Handbook: Using a Thoughtful Language Style to Help Kids with Social Learning Challenges Feel. And I think you would change it now to say social learning differences, feel Competent, Connected and Understood. And it is very digestible. It’s very accessible. And you have a lot of really good examples. So I think it’s a toolbox for parents. So I highly encourage listeners to check that out. And I don’t know if this is a challenge, but just as a way to leave listeners with something to start playing with. I’m wondering would a worthwhile experiment be to notice an imperative that you find yourself using regularly in daily life with your child and then practicing or maybe even coming up with some alternative language to use?
Linda Murphy 40:46
Yeah, absolutely. And also questions. Just notice how many questions in the day do you ask your learner? Because I think that happens a lot. And we don’t realize how it places demands on individuals in the moment to formulate language, come up with an answer and recall information. So question asking can add a lot of demands. And it’s not that we’re not ever going to be able to ask questions, but just to kind of get in the groove of declarative language, there’s nothing you can’t phrase as a comment. If you’re wondering about the child’s day, it might just be something like, Oh, I remember, in science class, you were going to work on such and such today, I’d love to hear how that went. So you might have a comment that lays the groundwork using your shared memories. And then I’d love to hear as an invitation for them to provide information. So it’s not that you aren’t ever going to hear about your learner’s day, or you can’t ask them questions. But to phrase it declaratively is just really less demanding and more likely for them to respond, because it’s also okay, if they don’t respond. But yes, I would say just being aware of our own communication is absolutely the first step. And then secondly, just picking that time that you don’t feel stressed to just try commenting, only commenting, and then counting in your head to 10 or 20. Before you add more language to just feel that slower flow, that slower pace, which allows for greater back and forth as well, and helps us get in tune with our learner.
Debbie Reber 42:18
Yeah, of course, every day, I’m like, How was government class today? How was this and I can see how that feels. demanding. I did want to point out also in your book, you wrote, I’m guilty of this. And I will say I am too guilty of saying, What did I say? Like when we share something with our child, and we want to make sure they heard us? I will often say, Did you hear what I said? What did I say? Can you repeat back to me? That’s very demanding. You have suggestions in there, such as I really want to make sure we’re on the same page, it will help me to know if you hurt me. I love that. And I’m really going to that’s an area where I know this is something I do regularly. And I really want to play with this other language and just see what happens.
Linda Murphy 43:03
Yeah, and even something like that. It just, nobody’s in trouble. Nobody did anything wrong. It’s just checking as communication partners, our thoughts together at this moment in time, if they are great. If they’re not, then we repair and that’s okay. That’s the dynamic nature of communication is there’s a breakdown and we repair. So it creates a positive situation for repair and positive memories around repair. There’s nothing wrong with missing information, or we’re needing somebody to repeat something.
Debbie Reber 43:34
Yeah, that’s great. Would you share with listeners where they can connect with you? You mentioned your blog, I’m gonna have a link to the one exchange at a time post that you mentioned, but anywhere that listeners can connect with you and engage.
Linda Murphy 43:47
Yeah, I would say the best place to find me is declarative. language.com. I update that website frequently. And I’m on Instagram, and also Facebook. You can find me there. But the links are also on declarativelanguage.com.
Debbie Reber 44:03
All right. Well, listeners, I’ll have links to all the resources we discussed, including some of the interesting names that came up in conversation in the show notes page. So definitely check that out. And Linda, thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to have this conversation with you, a lovely way to kick off the new year, and I really appreciate it.
Linda Murphy 44:20
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I love your community and I’m just really grateful to be a part of it.
Debbie Reber 44:30
You’ve been listening to the Tilt Parenting podcast. To go deeper into this episode, visit the extensive show notes page. For every episode, there’s a dedicated page on my website with links to all the resources mentioned, a full transcript and a podcast player with key takeaways marked so you can easily go back and re-listen to the sections you’re most interested in. Just go to tiltparenting.com/podcast and select this episode. The tiller parenting podcast is hosted by me, Debbie Reber, author of the book Differently Wired and the founder of Tilt Parenting. This episode was edited by Andrea Curtis-Amezquita and show notes were put together by myself, Andrea and Lindsay McFadden. If you get a lot out of this podcast and want to help cover the costs of its production, please consider joining my Patreon campaign. On Patreon, you can sign up to make a small monthly contribution as little as $2 a month and it’s super easy to sign up. Just go to patreon.com/tiltparenting To learn more, or click on the Patreon link on any show notes page. To follow Tilt Parenting on social media, go to @tiltparenting on Instagram and Twitter and on Facebook. Lastly, please help this podcast stay visible and easily found by the listeners who need it by subscribing and leaving a rating or review on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much. And that’s all for this week. Stay safe, stay well and take good care. And for more information about this podcast or any of the resources that Tilt offers, visit tiltparenting.com