Do you ever feel like you are talking – or yelling – until you are blue in the face but your children still don’t listen to what you have to say? The problem may not be with what you are saying but in how you are saying it or when you are trying to have the conversation.
Many kids shut down internally when the volume of your voice escalates. Others find it difficult (as do we as adults) to focus on a conversation when they are trying to get their homework done, find their shoes before track practice, or rush out the door to get to school on time. If you want your child to listen to what you have to say, these five tips will help.
- Keep your voice calm and your volume low. We tend to think if WE SHOUT our message will get across LOUD AND CLEAR. In reality, it’s likely when you start screaming your child responds by a) screaming back, and/or b) shutting down. (Think about it: Isn’t this how you would respond if someone started screaming at you?) Neither situation is beneficial to effective communication. Keep your voice calm and be aware of your tone, says clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Fulton, because the way you say something is just as important as what you say.
- Choose the right time to talk. It is difficult in our fast-paced world to find time for conversation, but if you try to talk to your child when they are rushing off to soccer practice or finishing up homework, chances are they will not be able to listen. Instead, choose a calm time when you can chat without feeling rushed. This may be as you make dinner together or when you are driving to school in the morning. Along with this, don’t attempt to have a conversation with your child when tempers are flared. Allow time for a break and then return to the conversation when you and your child are calm.
- Make teaching communication skills a part of your everyday life. Communication is not an easy skill to learn, and it does require practice. Spend some time each day teaching your child how to communicate. Fulton recommends role-playing as a way to teach children how to articulate a specific emotion they feel or pausing a show that you are watching together to talk about the character’s actions and conversations. You also need to model good conversation skills. Stop and look at your child when he or she is trying to tell you something. Respond to what your child has to say. Your child will watch how you communicate and emulate that.
- Keep your body language in check. As Gila Brown notes, communication is 90% non-verbal, and the world from a kid’s vantage point looks a lot different than it does from our own. If you approach your child with an angry stance, your child is likely to respond by shutting down. Try to remain relaxed with your palms open and your facial expression happy and calm. If you find you can’t do that during a specific moment (ie: when tempers are flared), take a break and return to the conversation when you are calm. Body language is an important part of good communication.
- Validate your child’s concerns. You might be intent on telling your child how something should be done, but your child may see things a different way; and that different way may actually be a great way to do things. Don’t shut out your child’s ideas. Let him or her explain how they see the problem. Don’t interrupt. When your child is finished, validate his or her ideas. You can do this by reiterating what was said, stating that you understand his or her concerns and asking how your child may do things to solve the problem. Among other benefits, this validation allows for two-way communication in which you are both engaged, increasing the probability your child will listen to you in subsequent conversations.
How do you try to instill better listening and communication skills with your child?