We all experience days when it feels like we just can't get on the same page with our kids. No matter what we say, they aren't hearing it, and, before long, everyone ends up shouting and upset. There are so many good ways to get our points across to our kids, but we use the same meaningless phrases over and over, expecting to get different results.
If you're experiencing communication breakdown with your kids, you're not alone. Before you resort to raising your voice, make sure you're not using one of these five pointless phrases.
If you're like most parents, this phrase probably rears its ugly head multiple times a day. The only problem is that telling a kid to “stop” without giving him a direct command is like telling him to read a book with no words. Is your kid supposed to stop hitting, stop yelling, stop sitting on his brother's head? What exactly should stop?
In a parent's mind, it all seems so obvious. We see behaviors clearly, but our kids are just learning what is and is not socially acceptable behavior. Replace a generic “stop” with a specific action, and you'll get better results.
Once again, we run into problems with children's concrete thinking. If your kids knew what good looked like, they might not annoy you so much. Once again, they're just learning. Every time you want to change your child's behavior, you need to give her concrete verbs to work with. Instead of saying, “Be good,” ask her to play gently or use a quiet voice, listen without interrupting or keep her hands to herself.
We want our kids to feel good about themselves, but empty praise leads to kids with hollow self-esteem. Merely praising your child for an outcome is only half of the equation. Specificity is the key to communicating with kids, so instead of using “good job,” compliment your child on her efforts.
“Listen to me!”
Take a step back and reevaluate the times you tell your kids to listen. What you really want, aside from listening, is for your kids to do what you tell them. In a child's black and white mind, he can listen to you and subsequently decide not to do as you say. Technically, he's not disobeying if you only told him he had to listen.
Substitute the word “listen” for the phrase “listen and obey”. Set up the expectation that your child needs to hear the words you speak and then follow through. Getting your child to listen is great, but getting his compliance is the end goal.
“You know better”
If your kid really knew better than to do something, she wouldn't have done it in the first place. We save ourselves a lot of angst when we accept that our kids really do not understand socially acceptable behavior. It's our job to teach them. Insisting that your child should know what you've taken years to figure out isn't fair, and it can lead to guilt. Recognize that learning proper behavior is not innate, and it takes years to figure out social cues.
Most of the time, our kids don't want to draw our ire. They legitimately want to keep the peace. There are exceptions, of course, but often, we're better off giving our kids the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if your communication is explicitly clear, your kids can't use the excuse that they didn't understand you. It all goes back to a classic saying — “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys. She writes with her husband, Darreck Hale, about parenting and marriage at thesecretlifeofparents.com.