“Hi! How was your day?” Sarah asked her nine-year-old son as he walked through the door. He had been acting a bit sad lately, but Sarah couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“Fine,” he said, throwing his bag on the floor and running toward the stairs. Sarah started rummaging through his bag to clean out the leftovers from lunch.
“And, your Chumash test?” she added quickly, hoping to get an answer out of him.
“Also fine,” he said, already halfway up the stairs.
“Do you want to eat a snack in the kitchen?” Sarah shouted up the stairs.
“No thanks,” her son answered.
Sarah retreated to the kitchen, a bit defeated. She couldn’t get her son to talk to her anymore. He wasn’t rude or obnoxious; he was simply not interested. She thought she had done everything right. Why didn’t her son see her as someone he wanted to spend time with? Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber have an excellent book on parenting that helps parents struggling with similar issues. How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk is a parent’s guide to both discipline and relationships, and focuses on developing and maintaining deep bonds with your children.
Learn How To Listen
Most people think that listening is simple – someone talks and you sit there. But, there’s a lot more to listening than simply being in the room. If you want your child to really talk to you (about good stuff and bad), you need to make sure that you are truly listening. Here are some tips for listening to your child:
Listen with full attention. Your child needs to know that you are fully present, especially if he is upset or angry. That means that you are giving him your full, undivided attention. If you are unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry, you are signaling to your child that you have other, more important things to do rather than listen to him. Of course, you can’t always give your full attention to your child, but if you are looking to have a real conversation, that’s the only way to have it.
Don’t ask questions or give advice. If your child is upset, he will most likely not want you to ask him lots of questions or give him a lot of advice about the problem right away. Instead, he would probably rather if you signaled to him that you are listening by saying short phrases like, “Hmm, I see” or “Oh.” This way, he knows you are listening, but he doesn’t get bombarded with advice or good intentions.
Help name the feeling. When your child needs to talk, he might not have all the words for what he is feeling. He might be able to tell you what the experience he had, but not the emotions he has around those experience. If you say something like, “That sounds frustrating,” you are validating and naming those feelings at the same time.
Alright, you might say, so now that my child is speaking to me, it doesn’t mean he or she is actually cooperating with me. As parents, we need our children to cooperate with us in order to get to school in the morning, clean up after themselves, do their homework, and just generally interact in a productive manner. If there is a lot a lack of communication or miscommunication, the day-to-day functioning of the household will be exasperating and messy. Here are some dos and don’ts that you can follow in order to gain cooperation.