When it comes to raising children, one of the most challenging areas involves learning how to talk to our children in a way that they will listen. Although it can be frustrating to repeat your words and instructions to your children numerous times, know that they are trying their best to take in the various stimuli from their surroundings – thus it won’t be surprising if they seem to blank out or switch off every now and then.
At the end of the day, we hope to find the right balance in nurturing our children as this will reflect in the way they communicate with others. Here, we offer you some tips to help you get your message through to your children when you talk to them:
1. Connect with them at eye level
When you talk or give instructions to your child, do get down to his/her height level and maintain eye contact to get his/her attention. You can teach your child to focus and direct his/her attention towards what you are about to tell him/her by saying, “Kate, I need your eyes.”
Do the same thing when your child is trying to talk to you to assure him/her that you are listening. However, be sure not to make your eye contact too intense as your child might see it as you being commanding rather than trying to connect with him/her.
2. Keep your words brief and simple
It is common to get sidetracked and long-winded when you are talking to your child about an issue. However, the longer you ramble, the easier it is for your child to slip into a dazed state and ignore everything that you have said.
The secret to retaining your child’s attention is to keep your sentences short and brief. Do take note of how children communicate with each other to get some inspiration. It is also beneficial to observe their facial expression while you are talking to ensure that they are paying attention to what you are saying and that they understand your instructions.
3. Repeat and replay
Younger children, especially toddlers, have difficulty in making sense of directives and converting them into action, which explains the constant need to repeat your instructions to them. You can help your children internalise your message by getting them to repeat your instructions and asking them on their next course of action. For example, once your child understands that playtime is over, the next thing to do is to explain that he/she needs to clean up the mess by putting back the toys and books at the appropriate places. As your children grow up, there will be less of a need to repeat and replay your instructions to them as their processing ability gets more adept.
4. Use positive words
Threatening and judgmental sentences (e.g. “You better do this, or else…”) are bound to make your child feel hurt and discouraged, which causes them to go into defensive mode. Instead of framing the message towards your child, try using “I” messages instead – for example, “I would like you to put your toys away” or “I am so happy when you helped with the dishes”. Not only does this help your child understand your expectations better, it also works well with children who are eager to please but don’t necessarily like being ordered.
5. Give advanced notice
While some children are receptive towards the instructions given by their parents, others may need some time to process the message and comply with what is being asked of them. One of the ways you can manage this situation is to pre-empt your children on what is expected of them and give gradual instructions for them to follow.
Here are some examples to help you go through with this method:
“Bedtime is in 10 minutes. So, I need you to switch off the TV and hop into bed soon.”
“We are leaving soon. Say goodbye to teddy, and bye-bye to your friends.”
“It’s homework time. So, I need you to finish up your art and craft and clean up the table.”
6. Apply the ‘No shouting’ rule
Remember the last time you tried to get your children ready for dinner by shouting from the kitchen? This didn’t exactly get them scrambling to the dinner table, did it? Here’s another method which you might like to try instead: Walk into the room where your children are playing or studying. Using your normal tone of voice, tell them firmly that it’s almost time for dinner – then join in their activities for a few minutes before declaring a “time’s up”. By going to your child, they get the message that your request is important, rather than just ignoring your shouting from the other end of the house.
7. Ask specific questions
At times, getting your children to answer your questions might be a real struggle – you’ll either get a flat “yes” or “no”, or fail to get a response out of them at all. You can turn this situation around by asking specific questions that they lead to more than a “yes” or “no”, and to stick to topics that interest your child. For example, instead of asking the broad question of “Did you have a good day at school today?”, try asking “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” or “Tell me something that made you laugh”. You might also like to check out this article on the various questions you can ask your child to get them to talk to you about school.
8. Get your child to think
If your child does not seem to want to comply with the instructions that you give, you might want to try a reverse approach that sets them thinking instead. So, for example, instead of saying “Please do something about your messy table”, try this instead: “Think of where you would like to keep your files and textbooks so that they don’t clutter your table.” By painting a clearer picture for your child, he/she might be more likely to act on it rather than to procrastinate.
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