I had the same question, so while writing my book Talk about Anything with your Kids, I went directly to the source. I asked children ages 6 to 13 why they don't always listen to their parents. Their responses were very honest and deeply revealing.
1. We've said it all before
One of the top complaints that kids have about how grown-ups speak to them is that we say the same thing over and over. The problem with repeating the identical phrases is that we become both predictable and boring. It is important to note that, as we become predictable in what we say, our children will learn to reciprocate with predictable responses. Observe this in action – the next time you say one of your standard lines to your kids, watch them respond to you in exactly the same way each time.
2. We don't give children our full attention
Children say that it can be very hard to get their parents' attention. This is not surprising considering how very busy parents are. In a world where multi-tasking is considered a virtue, we rarely give anyone or anything our full attention, let alone our children. This may not seem important until you realize that we are modeling the very behavior we don't want to see our in our children. Sure, there are times when you are busy and need to defer a conversation with your child. Just ensure that you give him/her your undivided attention a little later.
3. We load them down
What do we tend to do when we get extremely angry with a child? We blast them. We start with whatever set us off and then we roll in everything that has been irritating us for the past little while. There is so much stuff thrown together all at once that your child has no hope of sorting out what you are really upset about. Kids need clarity, simplicity and brevity in order to understand. Parents lose the ability to speak well when they are angry and our children can become overwhelmed by their own feelings of fear. There is really no talking or listening happening in this situation, just high levels of intense feeling.
Page 1 of 2 - Keep reading to find out why you might need to clean up your life because your kids are always watching.
4. We create distance
Effective communication happens when there is an emotional balance between the parties involved. When we get overwhelmed in our own angry feelings, we lose the ability to notice or even care about the feelings of our children. We create an imbalance that our child may either recoil from or may try to match with equal intensity. Intense arguments and angry confrontations separate us from our children and completely block communication. Unfortunately, we may unknowingly create greater and greater distance between ourselves and our children when the kids are young - and then the teenage years hit and we wonder what happened.
5. They already know it
Much of the time that parents spend talking to their children is focused on providing direction. This is, of course, necessary because children have so much to learn and children have an exceptionally long developmental period from birth to maturity. Parents have to provide direction, rules and guidelines. Reinforcement of key messages is important for learning, but at some point, we need to recognize that our kids actually have understood and learnt what we have said to them. As our children develop, they start to become progressively more resistant to the directive communication style – which is only one-way communication after all.
6. We don't always practice what we preach
We often send mixed messages to our children. While we expect very specific behaviors from them, we may not always exhibit these ourselves. Children are masterful observers of their parents and are acutely aware of situations that seem unfair. How we behave and what we model teaches our children much more than what we actually say. Our children may not always be listening, but they are always watching. Mixed messages are confusing to younger children and resented by older children.
7. Parents speak in negatives
Studies show that only 6-15 per cent of what we say to our children can be considered positive. As pointed out earlier, we do need to direct and correct our children; these actions are a key part of raising and teaching our children well. The message here is that parents need to adjust the percentages. We need to increase the volume of positive, supportive, and nurturing statements we make to our children. The more aware you become of what you say, how you say it and the impact of what you say on your children, the better the chances are that the positive-negative balance will improve.
So what can be done to overcome these barriers and improve communication between parents and children? There are many techniques that can help us do that – but the most important one is awareness. Consider the list of barriers and decide which are most prevalent in your home. Tackle one at a time and start to make some small changes. You will start to see your children become less resistant to your communication style and, as this happens, they will start to listen better.
This wisdom comes directly from children I spoke with. Ask your kids what would help them listen better. You might be surprised by what you hear…
For more ideas, visit www.talkaboutanything.ca.
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