This is a throwback post on practical steps you can take to make your child tell you more.
In today’s living, it has become unquestionably easy to spend time with your family and not talk at all. Many parents and kids are often attached to TVs, cell phones, iPads, iPods etc so much that, even though they are just a few feet from each other- they never exchange a word!
In the next few series, I will share some simple rules you can use to open the lines of communication with your children, get them to listen and to tell you more.
Rule #1: Listen! Listen! Listen!
Many parents, especially parents of teenagers complain that their teens do not converse with them. If you check, while the child of such a parent spoke to him years back, Daddy ‘claimed’ to be listening without his focus off his newspaper or favourite TV sport while Mummy just gave a quick answer, then a yell to stop the ‘bugging’ child so she wouldn’t miss out on the Africa Magic scene.
When your children want to talk, stop everything. If you continue what you were doing, they will think you don’t care and don’t have time for them. If what you are doing is so important and can’t be interrupted, ask him to give you a few minutes. The earlier you halt to listen to your child, the better for you and her.
A silent and sympathetic ear is sometimes the best thing we can give to our children. Part of excellent listening is, therefore, to avoid jumping into advice, scold or pass the blame while your child is speaking or making a point. In life sometimes, we don’t want advice or comments- just a shoulder to cry on. Other times, we just want to be heard and to feel like someone shares our pain. Let your child vent or discuss his concerns, worries, and fears. This rule is particularly important for parents of teenagers. However, the earlier we incorporate listening to our children from a young age, the smarter.
So next time the kids go- ‘Mom’, or ‘Dad’, tune in completely to them. Use listening words like: Hmm…, tell me more! I know, Wow! That is just awful! I am here, Go ahead; let it out etc to show that you are actually listening.
If you do not show interest in your kids when they want to talk to you- they will sooner or later, stop showing interest in talking to you.
Rule #2: Remember, there is power in choice.
How many times have you been asked if you’d like to have bread or yam for breakfast and you can’t make up your mind which to go for?
When you are talking to your children- whether they are two years old, or fourteen- give them choices. For instance, rather than picking out what your two-year-old will wear, bring out two items and allow her to make a choice.
Choices make children feel you are talking with them and asking them rather than talking at them and telling what to do. This no doubt, reduces the chance of rebellion and tantrums.
Asking children to make choices equip them with thinking and decision making skills from an early age. Later on in life, these skills will come in handy in helping them to effectively deal with peer pressure and deciding what to have for breakfast!
Smart parents make conversation a two-way street rather than a power struggle. Be smart!
Children model the behaviour of parents. How you express and handle yourself will usually determine how your children will as well. Speaking honestly and clearly, responding calmly, and listening carefully will occur only if children are provided with models and opportunities to practice. Kids need to learn to share more than just their belongings. They need to feel comfortable sharing their feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
Since a fortnight ago, we started the series on opening the lines of communication with your children, getting them to listen and to tell you more. We shall continue on that journey.
Rule #3: Avoid untrue statements and things said out of anger and frustration
Your children will learn to listen and believe when you speak to them truthfully and calmly. Trust and respect come from honesty and sincerity. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. For example, you want to go to the office and your child is all bent on going with you- when obviously you cannot take him? What do you do?
Don’t trick the child to go bring or do something and then zoom off before he returns! It truly hurts and teaches your child something- not to trust and believe you!
Rather, calmly explain in simple truths- that you have to go, you will not take him, but you will be back later in the day. Yes, your child will be upset and throw a few tantrums but guess what? After a few days of seeing you go and come, he begins to naturally brace himself for your exits and glad to welcome you. Yes, children see patterns and love routines… use this to your advantage!
Rule #4: Be a source of encouragement
When your children confide in you, they should feel relieved, inspired, and recharged, rather than guilty or that they are a source of disappointment to you. When they come to you with a problem or situation, offer your ear as well as words of encouragement like: I know you can handle it, Every problem has a solution, even this, Think it over; you will figure this out, I am here to help you, I went through this at your age, like when… (Paint a practical or past scenario).
Responding in this manner boosts children’s thinking and decision making skills and will definitely make them be more opened with you. With this, you will gradually be winning your rightful position as there first adviser and confidant.
Rule #5: Show Empathy
Try to step away from being the parent when listening, and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think about how difficult the conversation may be for your child, and think before you react. Thinking before reacting means you do not act on impulse, rather, you carefully think through to choose your words and actions.
Rule #6: Avoid the drill routine.
Angry adults can yell, scream, belittle and nag- they can also physically endanger their kids! If children share something with you and feel like they are being scolded or like they are disappointing you, they probably will not let it happen again!
As a parent, there will be times when you must address an issue your child discusses with you; be sure you address the behaviour or action and not the child. Know that too much talking and explaining makes kids less likely to corporate- think about it- if you didn’t get something right and your boss went on and on about it. What effect does it have on your future relationship and performance? You are likely to be irritated and less likely to cooperate! Same feelings apply with kids.
Rule #7: Make a point of being the initiator.
Children have a very short attention span. When they want something, often, they want it right away. If for any reason, you tell them to come back later for that item they desire, say, your child comes to ask you to read her a book, you are genuinely busy and ask her to remind you later. She goes off to play and has totally forgotten about the book you were to read to her later. Out of the blue, follow up on a previous subject of interest before your child comes to you. This reinforces for your child that you care and also brings you into your child’s circle.
Rule #8: Take time to share.
A busy parent is not always the best parent. Drop everything and do something spontaneous like doing homework in the park, playing scrabble together etc.
Rule #9: Apologise when you are wrong.
If you say something or do something you probably shouldn’t have, say you are sorry. Admit that you too are human and make mistakes. This clearly exemplifies to your child what to do when he is in a similar situation.
Rule #10: Love Them!
Don’t just love them…tell them you love them. Show them affection just as you did when they were small. A wise man was once seen kissing his grandsons. An onlooker exclaimed- you do that?! I have ten sons and I have never kissed them! The wise man said, “If hardness is put in your heart, how may I help you?”
Bake a cake for no occasion, play a game, take a walk after dinner. Show your love by showing them there is no better time spent than with them.