Research has demonstrated that most kids – even “good” kids – hear a lot more negative talk from parents than positive comments. We are quick to criticize, eager to tell our kids how very wrong they are, and always ready to point out that they’ll have to shape up big-time to be anything near so wonderful as we, their parents, are. We whine and complain and we yell. We yell quite a lot.
And that’s pretty pointless. It doesn’t help much. So here’s a suggestion:
Raise your voice only in urgency, not in anger.
When a semi-truck is barreling down the street towards your child, yell as loudly as you can, “Watch out!” When the soccer ball caroms out of the field straight for your kid’s head, yell, “Duck!” When the situation is urgent, yell. When you’re just angry, don’t.
Here are some situations to avoid when talking to your children, especially your older children and teens. Avoid these and you’ll feel like yelling less.
• Avoid taking advantage of a child’s inattention. Do not say something, knowing your child isn’t listening, and then punish her for not hearing you. For example, a parent (not you, of course!), might deliberately say something like, “Who wants some ice cream?” then refuse to give some to the child who didn’t hear her. This isn’t a “logical consequence” of not listening, it’s a game of Gotcha! and evidence that the parent can’t be trusted.
• Avoid talking too much. If what you say is usually valuable and interesting, kids will pay attention more often. If what you say is what you just said a bit ago or seems to be just filling the air with sound, kids will tune you out.
• Avoid being preachy. If what a parent has to say is too often “good advice,” children won’t listen, especially teens who are trying to establish their independence.
• Avoid yelling all the time. Yelling is ineffective in getting your way. It might get a kid’s attention but it won’t make her happy that you’re her parent and it won’t make her think you’re right about whatever it is you yelled about. Worse, yelling demonstrates you really don’t think you have much authority; it’s an admission of your own powerlessness.
Instead, when you’re angry with your child, try this step-by-step process to get yourself heard.
First, make sure you have your child’s attention. Do not compete with media or whatever your child is doing at the time you want to make your point. Ask for your child’s full attention and wait until you get it. Say,
“Elliot, pause the TV and look at me.”
Second, express your point of view clearly and simply. This will be easier to do after you’ve waited for your child’s attention than it would be if you just launched into a tirade. Stay calm and say exactly what you’re angry about and why. Say,
“When I got home today, I couldn’t get into the driveway because your bike and your hockey equipment were in the way. I had to park in the street. We’ve talked about this before. You must put your equipment away as soon as you’re done with it.”
Then, insist on a response that is respectful and to the point. This is a conversation. Your child may not ignore you, be dismissive, or say just the minimum that will shut you up. Again, because you’re not yelling, you have more power here.
So if you hear something disrespectful like,“Whateverrrr” or “Okaaaay” or if you get just a roll of the eyes and a big sigh, or if you hear something generic like, “Uh-huh” or “Sure, Dad”
then you can set some standards and ask your child to try again. Say, “Excuse me? I need to know that you heard me and you understood. I need to hear an apology.”
Remain calm and pleasant, not threatening. If your child says only,“Sorry.”
You say, “Sorry for what? Elliot, what are we talking about?”
Now your child knows he can’t get off easily. So now he says,“I’m sorry I left my stuff out.”
And you say, “Thank you. Please go put it away right now, so I can park my car.”
What happened here are several things: the parent got compliance from his child, the child recognized his parent’s authority, and everyone was polite and respectful to each other. The rest of the evening can proceed without anyone feeling grumpy.
Even if your child gets angry, if you can stay calm you’ll feel better. And eventually, you’ll get your way.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.