Parenting is hard. That’s a given. And one of the biggest challenges in parenting is talking to our kids and getting them to listen to what we’re saying. In a perfect world, our kids would listen to us every time we talk to them. However, we aren’t perfect and neither is the world or our kids — even if we might say differently whenever they snuggle us. But our kids don’t always snuggle us and sometimes they downright ignore us, or do the opposite of what we told them to do, and talking to them seems like a near-impossible task. So what’s a parent to do?
When it comes to communicating to your kids, the best approach starts from where most effective communication comes from: being respectful, clear, and implementing boundaries in a positive way. Here are some helpful tips on how to talk to your kids so your kids will listen to you.
Give a choice instead of a command
In an interview with the Washington Post, Joanna Faber, author of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, told the outlet that when it comes to getting your kids to do something, it helps to give them “a little choice instead of that little command.” This in turn is what helps make a kid feel cooperative. So, instead of commanding, “Pick up your toys now,” you might want to say, “How do you want to pick up your toys today? Like a giant dinosaur or like a little mouse?”
Use positive connection
This means using eye contact and getting down to their level rather than haphazardly tossing off remarks or commands over your shoulder. Once you make positive eye contact with your child, remember to use positive language. Refrain from saying negative remarks or the word “no” or “not.” Rather than saying, “No, you don’t run indoors,” you could say something like, “We only walk indoors, please.” Positive connections instill more confidence and positive behavior within your child. Kids learn by example and mimic our behavior and when they see that you use respectful and kind language and actions, they will do the same.
Keep it short and sweet
According to Psychology Today, researchers have shown that the human brain can keep only four “chunks” of information or unique ideas in short-term (active) memory at once. Which means if you’re requesting something from your child and speaking in a large paragraph that’s filled with a ton of other information, they will most likely tune you out and not respond. Your best bet is to keep what you want to say within one or two sentences, ask for what you need, and only move onto something else once your kid has responded to the first piece of information.
For example, if you want to talk about the schedule for baseball practice as well as what they want for dinner, say, “Please tell me your baseball practice schedule for this week?” and wait for them to tell you before asking what they want to eat.
Refrain from yelling and guilt trips
We know — kids make mistakes and they can get on our nerves, especially if you’re juggling work, remote learning, a global pandemic, and a million other curveballs the last year has thrown at us. But it’s important to remember kids take time to build and develop compassion and understanding, so yelling or using passive aggression and guilt trips don’t usually work effectively on them.
According to her article for Psychology Today, Dr. Melanie Greenberg writes kids live in the moment and test their limits to learn what is acceptable behavior. Which is why it’s recommended to take a break and reconnect with yourself and your feelings before you speak to them, especially if you’re feeling stressed. Rather than yelling or raising your voice, communicate with your children when you’re in a calmer state. If they’re yelling and acting hyper, don’t join in. Wait until they calm down or come to them gently but firmly.
Even if a kid is acting out, using labels or name-calling, such as “selfish” or “lazy” or “bad” is harmful because, says Greenberg, “kids internalize these negative labels and begin to see themselves as ‘not good enough.’ Humiliating or shaming a kid can shape brain pathways in negative ways. Label the behavior as unacceptable, but the kid as still lovable.” Clearly communicate your needs and how you feel without guilt or shame and then apply a clear consequence for the behavior and give them the opportunity to try again tomorrow.
Ask open-ended questions
If you want to spark a conversation with your child, don’t ask them yes or no questions. Instead, ask them open-ended questions that incite more details and conversations. For example, instead of asking, “Did you like going to the zoo today?” Ask your kid, “What was your favorite part about the zoo?” That way you’re inviting your kid to share how they feel and will give you more insight on what they think and how they experience specific events and experiences.
Here are some more examples of every day open-ended questions to ask your child:
— Would you rather have oatmeal or scrambled eggs for breakfast?
— What is your favorite thing to do at the playground? — Would you rather sing or dance to a song? — What’s your favorite part about learning science? — Why do you love this TV show/movie/book? — What was your favorite part of school today? — What color sprinkles do you want to use to decorate the cookies? — Do you like dogs or cats more? — What’s your favorite day of the week? — What’s the nicest thing your best friend said to you this week? — What is something that you can do tomorrow that will make your day better? — What do you think about when you wake up? — What makes your friends nice? — Do you like being a big brother? — What makes you mad? — What sounds do you like? — What makes someone smart?
And here are some examples of more playful open-ended questions to ask:
— What’s the best thing about being a kid?
— What do you think is the best thing about being a grown-up? — What words do you think describe you? — If you had one secret power, what would it be? — Where would you go right now if you could go anywhere? — What would your wizard name be? — If you were a sound, what sound would you be? — What’s the weirdest dream you’ve had? — Do you have any inventions in your brain? — If you could ask a wild animal any question, what would you ask? — What do you look forward to when you wake up? — You’re at the beach. What’s the first thing you do? — What makes you feel brave? — What makes you feel loved? — What makes you so awesome? — What are three things you want to do this summer? — If you joined the circus, what would your circus act be?
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