Jonno Roberts on communication with his children

September 11, 2017

When I first met US based acting couple Jonno Roberts and Georgia Hatzis they’d recently arrived after a long flight from LA, with their toddler twins to visit family back in NZ.  Amazingly they looked relaxed and sane after such a long flight! Mind you, the glorious Kiwi beach was looking its best on an Auckland summer’s day which makes everyone feel good the moment you set foot on it, and their little people were super keen to examine this exciting new environment.

However, beach mindset aside, they seemed a chilled, insightful pair on the parenting front having survived a truly busy first 18 months of parenthood, with some ups and downs in there. They also had a great sense of humour in tow – something I personally think is useful to have on board in life. I caught up with them to shoot them my ‘how’s life for you now’ questions. Jonno penned the note back, as Georgia had her hands full and was exhausted at the time (hey, that’s twins for you!) and you’ll see that insightful thinking with a touch of candid humour still exists.

Jonno, Georgia… those twins are going to learn a lot about navigating life and communicating well from you two. Lucky them!

Jude

 

Looking back, how did the ‘toddler’ stage pan out?

The Communication thing has been absolutely vital. We have made every effort never to lie to the kids, but instead to be truthful and reflective and respectful as they grow up.

I had a great dad-skills moment once in a playground, when Lenny and another kid ran face-first into each other. As I picked a bawling Lenny up, I simply reflected what I saw: “You ran into that kid really hard! You hit your face – I saw it. It looks like it really hurt. Was it more painful, or scarier because it was a surprise?” He sobbed out an “It was scary” and needed a big cuddle for about 15 seconds, then suddenly went “I’m okay!”, jumped up, and ran off.

Several minutes later, the mother of the other kid was still telling her crying child “You’re okay! Stop crying! You’re okay! It wasn’t that bad!”. In effect, what she was doing was telling the kid was that she wasn’t listening to him, that his emotions were inconvenient, that he was wrong about his experience. Of COURSE he was still screaming to be heard!

That kind of reflection and communication has been amazing for us, and our kids now do the same thing for us, and each other. If I am about to blow my top at one of them, the other will run in and tell me “Take a deep breath, Dad!”. Oh – it pisses me off in the moment, but after I take that deep breath (or 3), everything is much better. I’m normally laughing again, halfway through breath 2. And if we can build this emotional communication habit NOW… jeez I hope it helps us deal with the teen years, which are not too far away, it seems!

 

What do you miss about toddler hood, and NOT miss?

Twins. Double the nappies, double the poo. SO glad we’re over with that nastiness. As for missing it – I hardly remember it! I look back at videos and photos and they’re so bloody cute it kills me… I miss that. But they’re still cute. And they talk in full sentences, and we can actually have discussions. I like that a lot.

 

Where are you at now? Got some strategies that are working for you?

They’re 4 and a half now. Starting their last year of playschool. Things are getting smoother in places, rougher in others, as their personalities grow and they start asserting themselves more. As for tips… respect and communication is vital. If you can talk honestly to your kids, and they get used to it, and expect it, things are so much easier. Not easy – it’s never easy – but easier.

If I need something from them, I can usually tell them why, and they listen and respect that. Consistency is key. We try to be super consistent on bed times, on rising times, on rules, on expectations. Hold the line firm on little things (i.e. – when they finish eating, they clear the table) and you’ll be able to hold the line on bigger things. And try to get all the parents, caregivers, etc., on the same page. Consistency!

 

What’s your parenting ethos?

Listen, be curious, and be respectful. It’s kinda the Golden Rule – do unto others, etc.

I don’t like being lied to, or talked down to, or bullied, or manipulated. Why would I do it to my kids? That’s a big one.

Talking about the nature of Love has been huge for us. It gives us a basis for showing affection, for expressing values, for discussing big things like religion and death. It keeps language in check (insults like ‘you’re stupid’ that they hear at playschool are never repeated, because they diminish the Love in the house. The kids don’t ever use them – I overhear them screaming “I don’t like you right now!” instead, and I think that’s way preferable.) It gives a base understanding of what is important to our family and what we want to build in the world.

Storytelling is big, as well. Family stories, of bravery, of grit, of resilience, of love – these give the kids a sense of identity, values, and belonging to something bigger than themselves. And larger cultural stories: Georgia is Greek, so there’s lots to call on there. And I have told the kids stories of Maui, and Kate Sheppard, and Ritchie McCaw to keep them connected to New Zealand even as they grow up in Los Angeles. And we make these as personal as possible… “No, your Dad isn’t Ritchie McCaw, but that’s the kind of person that comes from New Zealand, and YOU’RE from New Zealand, so…”