Parenting For Dummies
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Good communication skills are the foundation for building a great relationship with your kids. However, so many different elements get thrown in the way that listening and communicating aren't always easy or effective.

Here are some techniques that you can use to improve communication with your kids. It doesn't necessarily mean they'll mind you or agree with what you're saying, which is okay, but at least they'll hear what you're saying.

Talking vs. being heard

Mother: "I've informed you a googolplex times to abstain from vexing your sibling."

Child: "Huh, Mom?"

When you talk to your kids, you must keep a few things in mind.

If you have something to say, and you want to be heard, do the following:

  • Get down to your children's level.
  • Use simple words.
  • Get to the point.
  • Don't yell.

Getting down to your children's level

When you really want your kids to hear you when you talk, physically get down to their level. If you can't squat, pick them up and put them on your lap. Look them right in the eyes, speak calmly and slowly, and say what you have to say. Don't be vague or babble and don't try to impress your children with your fabulous expanded vocabulary.

Encourage your children to look you in the eye. Kids can be standing right in front of you and have a bobbly head like those dogs that sit in the rear window of some cars. Bobble, bobble, bobble. They're not paying attention.

You certainly don't need to get down to your children's level to say, "Good morning," or "Are you hungry?" Save this kind of action for serious conversations such as, "Now, Simon, what did you do with Mommy's keys?" or, "Do you understand why you got into trouble for hitting your brother over the head with the bat?" But don't forget that the most important part of communicating is being a good listener. Communication can't work both ways when you're doing all the talking and none of the listening.

Using simple words

As adults, parents sometimes are brave enough to say, "What exactly does that mean?" They do this hoping they don't sound too much like a dork. Kids, on the other hand, will smile at you, and nod, or better yet, stare at you with blank looks on their faces.

Here are some real-life comparisons of interpretations from your mouth to your child's ears.

  • What you say: "Jordan, you need to be responsible and put your dirty clothes in the clothes hamper every night."

What he hears: "Jordan, you need to be rah-pitty-blah and put your dirty clothes in the clothes hamper every night."

  • What you say: "Jeremiah, don't piddle. You're supposed to clean your room."

What he hears: "Jeremiah, don't pid hole. You're supposed to clean your room."

  • What you say: "Don't be sarcastic to your sister."

What he hears: "Don't be sark a stick to your sister."

Talk to your kids by using words that they understand. Getting your point across is easier when your kids know what you're talking about. If you don't think they understand, ask them to explain what you've just said. That is a great test to see how well you're getting your message across.

When you don't talk to your kids using words that they understand, you may as well be speaking Swahili. That's why you hear many successful parents talking in short, blunt sentences, using simple commands, although they sometimes sound like they're talking to a pet: "Sit. Stay. No, no, no! Stop, stop, stop! Good boy."

At some point, you'll have to expand your vocabulary; you won't always have to talk on a preschool level. When you begin introducing new words to your children, take the time to ask whether they understand what you've just said. Many times, they'll smile meekly and say, "Yes," insincerely. Just ask them to explain what you said. If they're missing your meaning, explain it to them in another way or define the word that's throwing them off.

Always ask children whether they understand. If they seem unsure or hesitate, then ask them to explain it back to you. That's really the only way you'll ever discover whether you're getting your point across. Of course, you may have a child who doesn't hesitate to ask you what certain words mean. Then there's no question as to what is understood.

Getting to the point

Pretend that you're being timed on a conversation egg timer. If you don't say what you need to say within a short time, you've lost the attention of most children. On the other hand, when you're too brief, they'll ask for more information, if they need it.

Your kids understand you a lot better when you're specific and when you get right to the point, so:

  • Don't ramble on and on.
  • Don't go into long explanations.
  • Say exactly what you mean.

Children don't have to listen to you. They can choose not to listen the same way that you choose not to listen to certain people. You can't force, bribe, beg, or plead enough to get them to listen. They don't care. Even if you're in the middle of a sentence, they'll walk away when they get bored or are just tired of listening. Good communication between you and your children is the foundation for a long, happy, and growing relationship. If your children aren't listening to you, you've lost that foundation to build upon.

Don't yell

Yelling is the worst way to communicate.

Here's a guarantee: When you yell at your kids, they're not listening to a thing that you're saying. All they're doing is sitting there teary-eyed and upset because you're yelling or they're getting angry themselves. Your point is lost, they're upset, and you're upset. Nothing has been accomplished.

When you yell, your message doesn't get across. So whenever you reach the point where you're about to yell at someone, stop and leave the room. Just for a second, mind you. Take a few deep breaths, get your composure back, and approach the situation again.

Your job is to communicate your ideas to your children in a calm manner. Yelling shows your kids that you've lost control of yourself.

You're trying to be a role model and teacher. Yelling isn't a trait that you want to pass on to your kids. In fact, it comes back to haunt you as your kids grow older and their hormones get all stirred up. After all, when you yell, you're only teaching them to yell.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Sandra Hardin Gookin serves as a parenting expert for Parents Magazine and Working Mother Magazine.

Dan Gookin wrote the international bestseller DOS For Dummies. They have four sons.

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