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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.

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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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