As parents we spend so much of our time talking to our kids — and then wonder why they don't seem to hear us. In heated moments, we find ourselves stuck in power struggles, but can't figure out what to say to stop the fighting. Sometimes we just don't know how to answer a tough question.
Why can talking with kids be so hard? "The basic challenge is that parents very often speak without understanding how their children receive the message," says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain. "We often make an assumption that our kids understand. But then we wonder, 'Why didn't they do what I said?'"
While many parent-child conversations can lead to misunderstandings, becoming an effective communicator is not only possible - it can even be fun! PBS Parents provides a great guide you will find practical ways to communicate effectively with kids of any age, using words they can hear and techniques that make sense. The information is based on successful strategies that parents and experts (many of them parents themselves) have used with kids.
Remember: There is no script to memorize or order you have to follow. Think of these easy-to-employ ideas as tools you can pull out when you need them to help you and your child understand each other. And keep in mind that there are important times when NOT talking at all may be your best option.
Spend Time Listening:
Take a break and listen to your child. Specific actions — like making eye contact, kneeling down to your child's level and even tilting your head-show your child you are listening. They also help YOU stop and really listen. If you can't talk at that moment, you might say, "Let's talk in a few minutes; I'm in the middle of something."
Repeat what you heard. It's often useful to restate what you heard and put your child's feelings into words. You might say, "You wanted a turn on the swing right now, didn't you?" or, "You seem sad about going to day care today." These reflective statements acknowledge and give words to your child's feelings. However, do this carefully. If a child is in the middle of a tantrum, saying "You're really mad and out of control!" may aggravate the situation rather than help it.
Ask specific questions to gather more information. You might say, "Can you tell me exactly what happened?" If it makes sense to talk some more, you might ask, "What upset you the most?" Follow-up questions both acknowledge your child's feelings and get her talking about them. And they help you gather more information, so you can better understand what actually happened and how your child is thinking about it.
Consider Your Child's Opinion
See the situation through your child's eyes. You know how you feel when your boss or partner says, "That's ridiculous," or insists you really like something you know you hate? Kids feel the same way when parents say, "You don't really mean that," or "I can't believe you said that!"
Acknowledge your child's feelings. In response to your child's statement, you might simply say, "I'm glad to know that," or "I understand." At times, this acknowledgement is all your child needs to hear.
Try not to contradict your child's statement immediately, even if you think he's wrong. Hear him out before saying no. If your child says, "I don't want to go to school anymore," instead of saying "You have to go," you might ask, "What's the worst thing about it?"
Listen to your child's request without judging or correcting it. Good teachers give a child a chance to explain himself first, even if he's wrong. The same technique works at home.
Pause and Think
Give yourself a moment to think about what your child is asking. Even if your final answer will still be "No," you might say, "Let me think about what you're saying for a minute and get back to you."
Pause to consider your child's question. This forces you to slow down and helps you not to make a snap judgment, even if the answer is, "No, we are not getting a bunny." Pausing makes your child feel heard, because you have stopped to consider her opinion; it also diminishes the chances of a power struggle.
Share your thinking out loud. Your children will enjoy being included in your thought processes. If your child asks for a sleep over, you might say, "I know you want a sleep over, but your grandmother may want to see you this weekend when she visits. Let me talk to her." In this way your child knows how you arrive at your decision
Accept the Feelings
Allow your child's negative feelings to come out, even if they are hard to take. Simply being there, without saying much, may soothe and comfort your child. Sometimes you just need to wait it out until the feeling is expressed.
Avoid attacking your child's character. If your child acts out, instead of saying, "Bad girl, how dare you speak to me that way," you might say, "That kind of language is not OK." In this way, you are separating the behavior from the child. You don't want to imply that your child is intrinsically bad, or make her ashamed of her feelings.
Tell your child how her behavior makes you feel. "Don't hide your feelings," advises John Gottman, Ph.D., author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. "In fact, your feelings may be the best form of discipline, as long as they are not used to attack your child." You might express the depth of your emotions with phrases such as, "I am very disappointed in what you did," or, "It makes me sad that you lied to me."
Tell your child how you feel about yourself. In this way, your child knows you have feelings and learns how to express her own. You might say, "I had a bad day at work today, I'm in a crummy mood," or, "I blew it. I'm sorry I made a mistake." Be aware that if you spend too much time talking about how you feel, your child may feel overwhelmed (or bored) by your level of emotion. On the other hand, if you never articulate your feelings, your child may not feel permission to articulate her own.
Imagine Solutions Together
Grant in fantasy what you can't give in reality. If your child badly wants something that he can't have, encourage him to imagine what he wants — and talk about it. You might say, "What would you do if we could stop the car right now?" or, "I bet you wish Mommy was here right now. What would you want to do with her?" (And then, stand in for Mommy and do it, if the request is reasonable and possible.)
Ask a child what he wants to happen or would like to change. If your child complains about something specific, you might ask him to suggest some improvements. For example, if he says, "I hate music class because Mr. Block is so mean," you might first ask, "What's the meanest thing Mr. Block did?" Then, follow up and ask, "What do you wish your teacher had done instead?"
Use dialogue to find solutions. By first letting your child vent negative feelings, and then asking him to imagine a different scenario, you are encouraging him not only to discuss the problem, but to become part of the solution.
For more tips go to pbsparents.org