Apr 1, 2010

How To Talk So Your Pre-Teen Will Listen

We all do it at times: nag, preach, go on and on whilst getting tired of listening to our own voices.  But there are lots of easier and more effective ways to communicate with our kids to get them listening, chatting and engaging with us more positively.

As you know, a major part of discipline 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, look into your child’s eyes and engage your child in eye-to-eye contact to get their full attention. This helps them to know you are talking directly to them and helps to focus their attention on what you are telling them to do.

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, I want you to…”

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 with kids about an issue. It gives the child the feeling that you’re not quite sure what it is you want to say. If they can keep you talking they can get you sidetracked. Also it cuts to the chase and stops the whole situation from turning into just a nagging session.

Ask your pre-teen to repeat the request back to you
This way you can be sure that they’ve heard you.

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.”
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.”
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 tween 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 a mere preference.

Keep your expectations high
Kids 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 kids know where they are with clear instructions and will respond to what you want them to do faster.

Write it
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 kid 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! Just don’t patronise – aim to be humorous and light hearted and see what happens.

Empathising with your child
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.

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 so we don’t all fall over it all the time”

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

Use “When you…I feel…because…”
This strategy works with any age kid 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 don’t phone when you say you will I feel worried becausesomething may have happened to you.”

Close the discussion
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.

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