“My kids tune me out!” “It’s as if I am talking to a wall!” "All I get are one word responses!" Having heard this as the number one complaint from parents for over 25 years I decided to approach the challenge a bit differently. I went to a group of kids (15 children between ages 5 and 16) who admitted to tuning out their parents and I asked them why!
Here’s a sampling of what they said:
- · “They want to talk about dumb things most of the time.”
- · “They are always just telling me something to do.”
- · “Why should I listen to them? They never listen to me.”
- · “They don’t understand me and just want to lecture me.”
- · “Even when I do talk most of the time we end up in an argument and I end up in trouble.”
- · "I do listen it’s just that sometimes I don’t hear them!" (5 yr old!)
Remember, healthy communication is a learned skill and the cornerstone of a positive relationship with your children. It is a two way street. It involves both talking and listening.
These are 4 Tips to improve your approach to communication so that your children will “hear” you and welcome future conversations:
- Initiate conversations about things that interest them. Allow them to share what they want. Be careful not to ask too many questions. Often times, especially for preteens and teens this can feel as though they are being interrogated.
- Avoid simply issuing commands. No one feels like conversing with a dictator! “Clean your room!” gives off a negative feel where as beginning a pleasant conversation and then adding. “Oh, I would appreciate it if you would take 30 minutes to clean your room.” will warrant a more positive response.
- Be attentive to what your children are saying. It is important your children know you are interested in order for them to want to share with you. When appropriate share from your experiences things that relate to what they are talking about. For example, my grandson Zachary, age 13, was sharing about his karate lesson one day and when he finished with his story I shared with him the time I was at an exhibit and saw a man break a concrete block right in front of me. He was excited to hear what I was saying and this led to him wanting to tell me more about his interest in Karate.
- Make a big deal about things they do share with you. In a week long group class I did with 20 10-11 yr olds on communication I asked the children to think of something each day to share with me that they were interested in. We engaged in a conversation about their topic so that I could help them gain communication skills. I would point out the art of listening and speaking to help them grasp the concept of healthy communication. At the end of the week I met with each student and their parents one on one for an evaluation. During each evaluation I asked the child for permission to share with their parents one specific thing they had shared with me through the week. I had kept detailed notes so that I could share exactly what they had said. In an extremely excited tone I would say for example, “Susie did a really good job in class. I enjoyed getting to know her. Do you know that she explained to me that she recently learned that there are 36 different kinds of frogs in the world?” As soon as I had shared this with Susie parents, Susie quickly added, “Tell them what my favorite one is!” Of course I encouraged her to share it herself and she did. I did something similar with each student and their reaction was always the same. The children were thrilled that I had found what they said so amazing that I wanted to share it with someone else!
In my own family when my husband comes in each night, more often than not one of the children will ask “Did you tell Papa…?” They love to share events of the day because we have made it a point to show interest and excitement when they do. When something of significance has happened throughout the day I will say "Do you want to tell Papa or should I?" which is always met with "Let me!!" And other times, especially good reports from coaches, teachers etc they will ask "Did you tell Papa...?" and stand beaming with pride anxiously awaiting his response. The part I love is that although they like me to initiate sharing their kudos I NEVER finish the sentence...they jump in and gush with pride as they share their happy news!
We all love to feel important. The more we feel what we have to say is important and valued the more we open up and want to share. This is true for all of us but especially when teaching children how to use communication to build relationships. When we show genuine interest in hearing our children’s thoughts and ideas we can expect the same in return.