Topic of The Month. Great ways to talk to your kids… so your kids will listen!

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

Ways to improve listening

A major part of bringing up kids is learning how to talk with and to your children. The way you talk to your child teaches them how to talk to others. Here are some simple but really effective talking tips to try out with your kids:

Connect before you direct

Before giving your child directions, squat down to your child’s eye level and engage your child in eye-to-eye contact to get their full attention. This helps them know you are talking directly at them and helps to focus their attention on what you are telling them to do: “Nic, I need your eyes to look at me.” “Sophie, I need your ears to switch on so you can really hear me.”

Be aware of your body language and your tone of voice so your child knows you mean what you say – be clear – be firm – be calm and be specific.

Address your child clearly by using their name

This makes sure your child knows that you are actually talking to them and gets rid of any misunderstanding. Often children are really engrossed in what they are doing so using their name grabs their attention quickly and easily. So start your request with your child’s name, “Charlie, will you please…”

Stay brief

Use the simple but effective one-sentence rule and put your main point in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your child is to become parent-deaf! Too much talking is a very common mistake parents make when talking to their kids about an issue. It gives your child the feeling that you’re not quite sure what it is you want to say. If they can keep you talking they can often get you sidetracked. Also it cuts to the chase and stops the whole situation turning into just a nagging session which is far more positive.

Stay simple

Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen to how kids communicate with each other and take note. When your child shows that glazed, disinterested look, you are no longer being understood or listened to. So take the hint!

A really simple way to check they have heard you is to ask them to repeat the request back to you if they can’t, it’s too long or too complicated or they weren’t really listening to you!

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

You can reason a little with a two or three-year-old, especially to avoid power struggles. “Get dressed so you can go outside and play.”

Offer a reason for your request that is to the child’s advantage and one that is difficult to refuse. This gives them a reason to move out of their power position and do what you want them to do. But don’t bribe them with sweets or biscuits or too much TV as it sends out the wrong message and never beg them – that gives away your power completely.

Be positive

Always speak in the positive so instead of saying “no running,” try: ” Walk around inside the house, but outside in the garden you can run.”

Begin your instructions with “I want.”

Instead of “Get down,” say “I want you to get down.”

Instead of “Let Molly have a turn,” say “I want you to let Molly have a turn now.”

This works well with children who want to please but don’t like being ordered about. By saying “I want,” you give a reason for being obedient rather than just giving an order.

“When…then.”

This is a very useful little tip as it works so well as you are completely in control and getting what you expect achieved.

“When you’ve washed your hands and face and brushed your teeth, then we’ll begin the story.”

“When your homework is finished, then you can watch TV.”

“When,” implies that you expect obedience, and works better than “if,” which suggests that your child has a choice when you don’t mean to give them one.

Legs first, mouth second

Instead of shouting, “Turn off the TV, it’s time for dinner!” walk into the room where your child is watching TV, join in with your child’s interests for a few minutes, and then, during a commercial break, get your child to turn off the TV. Going to your child conveys you’re serious about your request; otherwise children interpret this as just a preference and take no notice of you.

Give limited choices

“Do you want to put your pyjamas on or brush your teeth first?”

“Stripy shirt or blue one?”

This gives your child the feeling of being independent and in more control of their lives but really you still have the situation under your control but it sounds less domineering and bossy and makes for a more harmonious atmosphere.

Be aware of your child’s maturity

The younger your child, the shorter and simpler your instructions should be. Think about your child’s level of understanding. For example, a common error parents make is asking a three-year- old, “Why did you do that?” Most adults can’t always answer that question about their behaviour! Try instead, “Let’s talk about what you did.” And this works just as effectively with teenagers too!

Keep your expectations high

Even a two-year-old can learn to say “please.” And “thank you” Expect your child to be polite. Children shouldn’t feel manners are optional. Speak to your children the way you want them to speak to you. The earlier you start the easier it will turn into a natural habit

Be aware of the language you use

Threats and judgmental remarks put children of any age on the defensive.

“You” messages make a child clam up. “I” messages are non-accusing.

So instead of saying “You’d better do this…” or “You must…,” try “I would like….” or “I am so pleased when you…”

Instead of “You need to clear the table,” say “I need you to clear the table.”

Don’t ask a leading question when a negative answer is not really an option. “Will you please pick up your coat?” Just say, “Pick up your coat, please.” It is more specific and children know where they are with clear instructions and will respond to what you want them to do faster.

Write it on a note

Constant reminders can evolve into nagging so easily, especially for preteens who feel being told things puts them in the slave category.

Without saying a word you can communicate anything you need to say. Talk with a pen and paper for a new approach. Leave humorous notes for your child to find. I used this approach with my teenage son who had a mountain of drinking glasses by his bed and it really worked. “I’ve heard the dishwasher is a really exciting experience just like going on Space Mountain – Love Your Glasses”

Then sit back and watch what you want happen!

Empathising with your child

The louder your child yells, the softer you respond. Let your child
catch their breath while you pop in empathetic and understanding comments: “I understand” or “How can I help?” “I can see you’re feeling really angry about this” Sometimes just having a caring listener available will really calm your child down as they feel heard and understood and their anger or tantrum melts away. If you come in blaring too you have escalated the problem and you’ve got two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for your child.

Settle and calm down the listener

Before giving your instructions, bring back a sense of calm and emotional equilibrium and balance, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in when a child is an emotional wreck.

Replay your message

Toddlers sometimes need to be told a thousand times in a patient tone of voice what you want them to do because children under two have difficulty internalising your instructions. Whereas by the age of three most children have begun to internalise your instructions so that what you ask begins to sink in. The key is to do less and less repeating as your child gets older. I think it’s helpful to remember that most preteens regard repetition as nagging!

Let your child complete and process their thoughts

Instead of “Don’t leave your mess piled up,” try: “Marc, think of where you want to keep all your football stuff.”

Letting your child fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting lesson.

Use rhyme rules.

This is a great strategy as it fun to play around with “If you hit, you must sit.” Get your child to repeat them and have fun making them up together

Give pleasant alternatives

You can’t go by yourself to the park; but you can play in our next door neighbour’s garden with Simon.”

Give advance notice

“We are leaving soon. Say bye to the toys and bye to all your friends before we go…”

Open up a closed child

Carefully chosen phrases and enquiring questions open up closed little minds and mouths. Stick to topics that you know your child gets excited about and ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. The secret is to stick to specifics. Instead of “Did you have a good day at school today?” try “What is the most fun thing you did today?”

Use “When you…I feel…because… I would like ….”

This strategy works from toddlers to teens as it expresses how you feel but also explains why you feel the way you do and takes the blame from the situation.

When you run away from me in the supermarket I feel worried because you might get lost. I would like you to stay close to me”

Close the discussion – end of story.

Sometimes you have to be the adult in the situation as you have your child’s best interest at heart and you are there to guide, nudge and teach them. If a matter is really closed to discussion, say so.

“I’m not changing my mind about this. Sorry.”

You’ll save wear and tear on both of you so reserve your “I mean business” tone of voice for when you do and your child will know that’s it non negotiable and behave accordingly.

Practice makes perfect so don’t overwhelm yourself – just choose one or two things to try each week and enjoy the progress and success you notice.

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