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Talking Effectively to Your Children  

Last month we talked about helping your children to feel understood as being one of the best ways to prepare them to listen to you.  This month we will talk a bit about how to go about speaking to your children, particularly when you want to correct them or direct them in some way.

First, it may be a good idea to list the things that are a bad idea in such situations.  You want to maintain your own calm and respect so things like name calling, criticism, accusation, sarcasm and negative comparisons to other people should be off your list.  Kids are also likely to turn off direct commands and lectures, so you should leave them off your list as well.  You should also not offer threats, that is, offer up potential consequences that you do not intend to deliver.

What should you do?  We talked about helping children understand their own feelings and it might be helpful for you to lead with your feelings as well.  Letting them know why you are upset about something can be helpful if you do it more through words rather than demonstrating your upset with tone or actions.  Some children are particularly sensitive to parents’ feelings though, so parents should be careful if their children fit that category.  It is also not useful to talk generally about negative feelings you have about the child; the feelings need to relate to the situation that has upset you.  Also remember that if you appear out of control upset they are likely to be reactive and not able to respond well or learn well in the situation. 

Describing what happened to upset you and giving your child information about it is also helpful.  Make sure your child understands what you are upset about or what you are asking them to change.  Sometimes they actually don’t understand the situation or the implications of the situation.  For instance, telling them using a coaster on the table keeps it from staining is better than just yelling at them to get a coaster.  Also be cautious about going on too long with description or information and don’t tell them things they clearly already know.  This will likely just annoy them.

Being brief will be a benefit.  Be as clear and concise as you can in giving information.  If the thing you are working on is something they understand but are having difficulty remembering or implementing, you might create a single word reminder for them to do what you want.  For instance, in the above situation, instead of explaining the purpose of a coaster every time your child forgets, simply say “coaster” in a forceful but pleasant tone of voice.  Writing a note might be helpful as well.  While a child is getting something under control a strategically placed not might be helpful.  Again, in the above example a little card on the table saying “coaster please” could be a good cue for them. 

Direction and correction is best carried out when you are clear with the information you give and are calm in presenting your own emotions.  Generally, kids are not more likely to change when they see their parents emotionally upset or distraught.  They tend to be more reactive to their parents emotions and are thus not in a good place to make change themselves. 

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