As parents we spend so much of our time talking to our kids and then wonder why they don't seem to hear us. In heated moments, we find ourselves stuck in power struggles, but can't figure out what to say to stop the fighting. Sometimes we just don't know how to answer a tough question.
Why can talking with kids be so hard? "The basic challenge is that parents very often speak without understanding how their children receive the message," says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain. "We often make an assumption that our kids understand. But then we wonder, 'Why didn't they do what I said?'"
While many parent-child conversations can lead to misunderstandings, becoming an effective communicator is not only possible - it can even be fun! In this guide you will find practical ways to communicate effectively with kids of any age, using words they can hear and techniques that make sense. The information is based on successful strategies that parents and experts (many of them parents themselves) have used with kids.
Remember: There is no script to memorize or order you have to follow. Think of these easy-to-employ ideas as tools you can pull out when you need them to help you and your child understand each other. And keep in mind that there are important times when NOT talking at all may be your best option.
Consider Your Child's Opinion
See the situation through your child's eyes. You know how you feel when your boss or partner says, "That's ridiculous," or insists you really like something you know you hate? Kids feel the same way when parents say, "You don't really mean that," or "I can't believe you said that!"
Acknowledge your child's feelings. In response to your child's statement, you might simply say, "I'm glad to know that," or "I understand." At times, this acknowledgement is all your child needs to hear.
Try not to contradict your child's statement immediately, even if you think he's wrong. Hear him out before saying no. If your child says, "I don't want to go to school anymore," instead of saying "You have to go," you might ask, "What's the worst thing about it?"
Listen to your child's request without judging or correcting it. Good teachers give a child a chance to explain himself first, even if he's wrong. The same technique works at home.
Spend Time Listening
Take a break and listen to your child. Specific actions like making eye contact, kneeling down to your child's level and even tilting your head-show your child you are listening. They also help YOU stop and really listen. If you can't talk at that moment, you might say, "Let's talk in a few minutes; I'm in the middle of something."
Repeat what you heard. It's often useful to restate what you heard and put your child's feelings into words. You might say, "You wanted a turn on the swing right now, didn't you?" or, "You seem sad about going to day care today." These reflective statements acknowledge and give words to your child's feelings. However, do this carefully. If a child is in the middle of a tantrum, saying "You're really mad and out of control!" may aggravate the situation rather than help it.
Ask specific questions to gather more information. You might say, "Can you tell me exactly what happened?" If it makes sense to talk some more, you might ask, "What upset you the most?" Follow-up questions both acknowledge your child's feelings and get her talking about them. And they help you gather more information, so you can better understand what actually happened and how your child is thinking about it.