Link copied to clipboard

Does it sometimes seem that talking to your child is like talking to a brick wall? The problem might be that you missed a key communication step.

I watched a father of a very active four-year-old the other day. The child was on a couch with her feet in her older brother’s lap. On those feet were hard-soled shoes with sharp corners at the heels. The little girl began waving her feet around, perilously close to her brother’s face.

Her father used a stern voice but at a normal volume. He called the child’s name. He said, “Please look at me.” He asked, “Are you listening to me?” and waited until the girl nodded “yes.” He then said that she was in danger of hitting her brother with her sharp shoes. He asked her to look at her shoes. He asked he to feel the edges of the heels. He said, ”When you put those shoes close to your brother’s face you could hit him. You could cut him.” He said, “Do you understand what I just said?” The little girl nodded yes.

At no time did the Dad restrain the girl or raise his voice. But his tone and his words demanded her attention. And that is the key: making certain one has a child’s attention before making a point. The child moved her feet away from her brother’s face and the problem did not come up again.

Too often we act hastily. We bark direct orders: “Keep your feet still!” without ever getting a child’s full attention. We reach and grab the shoes instead of grabbing the mind first. This dad was supremely effective because he got his daughter’s attention and held it while he made the correction that was needed.

Kids are used to tuning us out. We tend to blather on and on until our voices are just background noise. How often does it happen that you tell a child something only to have him ask about the very same thing in a minute or two? How often do you give a direction, only to have a child do something wrong and then ask why you didn’t tell him the right way? It’s not that we don’t talk about what we want our kids to do. It’s that we don’t make it easy for them to hear us.

So do as this father did. Stop the action and get the child’s attention first. Do not continue until you are certain you’re being heard. Then say what needs to be said as simply and as clearly as possible. Finally, ask if the message was understood.

By getting a child’s attention first, you help him to learn to listen to you. You make it clear that you say important things. And you and your child will get along better, with less frustration and less hot air.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.