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Why Won't They Just Listen?! How To Communicate With Your Kids (or Anyone, For That Matter)

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Parents everywhere complain that their kids just don't listen to them. But the question worth considering is, how well do we listen to our kids? As in all aspects of parenting, our children learn how to behave by watching us in action.

The most important aspect of communicating with your children is really being present when they're talking. When they come to you, put down what you're doing and make time for them. The one thing we all want more than anything else is to feel that we matter. We show our children they do when we put them first.

Sometimes, especially with older kids, too much attention makes them feel awkward and put on the spot. If you think that's the case, back off a bit by doing something that doesn't really require your full attention while you're talking (and allows you to avoid eye contact), like washing dishes or folding laundry - just don't let it become your main focus.

If you are in the middle of something that really can't wait, stop for just a moment, look your child in the eye, and make an appointment with them to talk later. Then do it.

Be conscious of what your body language is saying. We all innately trust it more than words that are spoken.

The word "why" always puts people on the defensive. No one likes to have to justify themselves, which is what most Why questions are demanding. You may get a better response with a phrase that begins with What or How (and, no, "What were you thinking?" doesn't count.)

Avoid platitudes, like "It will all be better tomorrow," or "You'll be fine." We don't like being talked out of our feelings when we're upset, and neither do our kids. Children lack the gift of perspective, and their hurts run very deeply over things we would consider to be relatively minor. Don't focus on the situation, such as being ignored by a friend, by saying, "You have lots of other friends who like to play with you." Try something that lets her know you understand how she feels, like, "It's very painful when a friend doesn't want to include you. I remember when that happened to me, and I felt very hurt and sad." You might be surprised at the discussion that develops when you show empathy, instead of trying to smooth over the problem.

When you're feeling angry, get into the habit of forcing yourself to stop and think before speaking. You can't take back words spoken in anger, and very rarely do we look back on a situation where we waited to cool down and think, "I should have just let him have it!" You can try getting into the habit of thinking, "Is this comment on the tip of my tongue designed to make the other person feel better or worse?" If it's meant to make them feel worse, think twice about saying it. Despite the momentary satisfaction you'll feel by getting it off your chest, children have looong memories, and what you say today could affect your relationship for months or years to come.

A great way to encourage a strong relationship with your child is to talk about something that happened in your day, and ask for his opinion on it. Think along the lines of small, day-to-day events that you might mention in passing to your partner or a friend, or things that affect your child (determine what's appropriate depending on his age). You might be surprised at the wisdom your child has, if you'd only ask.

We have a powerful tool to help our children become great listeners: the technical term is "modeling." By demonstrating how to really listen and how to communicate well, we give our children not only the gift of being heard, but also the pleasure of knowing how to give the gift to others.

A really great book on this subject is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  A classic parenting book – if you’re struggling to get through to your kids, this book is a great place to start.

First Dates

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I remember my first date with one of my first teenage boyfriends.  I remember where we went, what movie we saw, what he wore.  I also remember the names of all three of the friends who joined us.

Not much has changed.  It's quite common now for teens to hang out in packs, then eventually settle down with a special someone.  But there may still be a "group" mentality when it comes to socializing.

And as painful as it may be for you as a parent, now is a good time to talk with them about sex.  Research shows that the more informed kids are about sex, the better their decision-making is.  It's an important counter-point to all the misinformation out there being spread from friend to friend, and an important factor in withstanding the peer pressure to engage in sexual activities.

Encourage your teen to bring their friends -- and significant others -- over to hang out at your place.  It allows you to get to know all of them and to keep an eye on how the relationship is progressing.  Young romances are fine, but they shouldn't be all-consuming.  If your teen is starting to hang out with his girlfriend to the exclusion of pretty much all other activities, including ones that he used to enjoy, you might want to chat with him about what's happening in their relationship and find out what's going on from his perspective.  Start a dialogue, stay open and collaborative, and position yourself as a “coach” or consultant who might have some helpful thoughts on how things are going for him, rather than being seen as a know-it-all parent who can’t keep her nose out of other people’s business!

Sticks and Stones

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, April 16, 2013

There has been a lot in the papers lately about bullying and cyber-bulling, in light of Rehteah Parsons’ death.  Obviously, this is a complicated issue with no simple answers, but every parent wants to keep their kids safe, even though that’s not always possible.  

Although not all kids will tell you outright that they are being teased or harassed at school, watch for changes in their moods, lack of enjoyment in activities they used to gain pleasure from, and a general down mood.  If cyber-bullying is a factor, they may become secretive or have strong reactions when it comes to computer use.  Of course, these signs could also be indicative of other issues, but it gives parents a place to start when looking for warning signs.

Friends and a sense of belonging are probably the best antidote to bullying, so encourage your child to develop close relationships with people she likes and trusts in many areas – yes, at school, but also on sports teams, at church, in the neighbourhood you live in, or other activities like Guiding and Scouting.  Having a safe zone that is separate from the tormentors can bring some much needed respite for kids, especially since cyber-bullying can follow a person anywhere.  If the behaviour crosses from teasing to tormenting, get involved at school and include the police if you feel that’s what’s called for, and work together to create anti-bullying plans.  Find a balance between letting your child handle the situation the way she feels most comfortable and advocating on her behalf when the situation crosses a certain line.

These are simple, starter steps, and not meant to be an exhaustive resource for handling complicated, ongoing, or dangerous instances of bullying.  Good places to start if you need more than just the basics are and PrevNet, both web sites with many resources for parents, kids and communities.  Our thoughts go out to the Parsons family at this time of tragedy.

Girls? Boys? Both?

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Do you think it's easier to raise one gender over the other?  As the mother of three young daughters, I've heard (more than once, in fact) that it's easier to have little girls rather than little boys, but they become terrors as teenagers and by then it's easier to have teenage boys.

I'm not sure that I buy that.  Of course, I haven't parented a teenager, so perhaps I'm off the mark, but I wonder about generalizations like that.  I'll make some generalizations when it comes to birth order, mind you...but then again, I am quick to admit that it's an art not a science, and that it can always be different than what we expect.

My question about stereotyping our children this way is: how does it influence us as parents?  Do we parent differently if we believe that one gender is "easier" or "harder"?  Do we set ourselves up for trouble?  Or worse, do we send messages to our kids about our expectations, that then influence how they view themselves and how they think we view them?

Our culture is filled with references to parent-child relationships.  "Daddy's little girl" and "mamma's boy" come to mind.  But I wonder: which came first?  Did these expressions grow out of astute observations of our relationships with our kids, or did they subtlety shape how we interacted? 

A similar expectation happens with the teenage years.  We expect that it will be difficult.  And our expectations are rarely disappointed.  But what if we expected the teen years to be joyous?  Rewarding?  Our favourite phase in our child's life?  How might we parent differently if that was the word on the street?

What do you think?

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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