How to Talk So Kids Will Listen
Just when you thought getting your baby to sleep was the hardest part of parenting, a new challenge pops up: getting your growing kiddo to listen. As soon as toddlers are old enough to start walking, talking and thinking for themselves, they're old enough to start getting themselves into trouble.
Our job as parents is to help them learn and grow, but teaching anything is impossible if we can't get our sweet and stubborn offspring to actually, well, listen. Learning how to talk so kids will listen is an art, so keep reading for a few tools of the trade.
Consider Your Timing
To start, choose your timing wisely. If your child is mid-meltdown, they're not receptive to feedback. They're too overcome with emotion to engage in any higher-level thinking, so wait until they've calmed down to sit down for a chat. At the same time, waiting too long to talk about misbehavior isn't ideal, either. If you wait until a week has gone by, it's much harder for a toddler to connect the dots. Wait until your child is calm but not so long that they've forgotten the event entirely.
For other discussions, initiate a conversation when your child's attention is available. Don't interrupt their favorite activity, or they'll be too eager to get back to it to actually give you the time of day.
Get Their Attention
Have you ever had someone talk to you for 30 seconds and realize you have no idea what they just said? Who hasn't, right?
To avoid becoming white noise to your kids, get their attention before you strike up a conversation. Call them by name, wait for eye contact and make sure you have their undivided attention before launching your TED Talk.
Get on Their Level
The difference in power between parents and children is huge. Parents exert a lot of control over their little lives, and sometimes, that's hard for children of all ages to accept. It's even harder when someone is literally talking down to you. To make your kids feel like you're talking with them, not at them, talk to them at eye level.
Sit on the couch with them or sit while they stand so that you're face to face. This small action tells them, "I see you, and I respect you. Let's talk." Much more inviting than someone yelling at you from the sky, no?
Use Language Kids Understand
If you want your kids to listen to you, it really helps if they know what the heck you're talking about. Make sure the language you're using is appropriate for their stage of development.
Telling a 2-year-old to stop being disrespectful isn't going to work too well since they haven't a clue what "disrespectful" even means. Use words they already know, and break down more complicated topics in a way they can understand.
When you're grown up, you can make inferences without even realizing you're doing it. Kids, however, haven't been on the planet long enough to do that. They lack the experience to make logical assumptions. They really don't know how the world works, and we can't teach them problem-solving skills unless we get really, really specific.
Instead of: Be nice to your sister.
Try: Look at your sister's face when you yank her arm like that. She doesn't like it, does she? Let's use gentle hands instead. Good job! See how much happier that makes her?
Instead of: Put away your toys, or we're not going to the park.
Try: We can't go to the park until all of the blocks are back in the basket and all of the books are back on the shelf. Let's see how fast you can put them away!
Setting clear expectations makes it so much easier for kids to actually meet them.
Validate Their Emotions
Would you listen to someone who doesn't care how you feel or even bother to try and understand where you're coming from? Of course, you wouldn't!
Tantrums aren't fun for anyone, especially the kids who are throwing them. Feeling out of control isn't a good feeling. Whether your child is feeling angry, sad or overwhelmed, their negative feelings are 100 percent real, even if they're out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Take a minute to acknowledge how your child is feeling and offer them appropriate ways to channel them, like hitting a pillow or taking a break in their room. A warm hug might be all it takes to help them regroup. Once they've calmed down, they'll be much more receptive to your feedback.
Talk About Yourself, Too!
Leading by example is one of the most effective parenting tactics in the parenting book. Model expressing your feelings, and offer up examples from your own life that tie in with the topic at hand.
They'll be more willing to listen once they realize you're speaking from experience. Plus, modeling humility is good practice for both of you.
Delivering nonstop lectures or yelling 24/7 is a surefire way for kids to tune you out. Make your conversations with them a positive experience. Instead of focusing on "you," use "I" instead. For example, instead of saying, "Why don't you ever clean your room like I ask you to?" try saying, "I love it when you clean up without being asked. Can we try that again today?"
Whatever behavior you focus on is the kind you're likely to see more of. Always acknowledge what they do right more than what they do wrong. That way, they'll realize that good things happen when they listen to you, and doing it more often will just make sense!
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