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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Filtering by Tag: listening

3 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Listen

Elisabeth Stitt

COOKIES, KIDS!  COME GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!

Can't you just see the stampede of kids that would follow this call?  And wouldn't it feel good to get all those squeals of delights and efuse thank you's when you did make the call?  But what about all those other times when what you are singing out does not seem to reach their ears--as if they are surrounded by an invisible force field that protects them from requests they would prefer not to process?

Let's try applying my 3 Steps to Effective Parenting--clarity, connection, and consistency--to see how you can get your kids to listen to you.



CLARITY


In this case, clarity has two aspects.  The first is your own clarity about what is important to you.  You are going to get much further with your kids if you are clear that you want your directions followed.  If you request something from your kids, but you don't really expect them to do it--and it really isn't that high on your priority list--chances are, it just isn't going to happen.  You might say with a long suffering sigh,  I wish you kids would hang up your backpacks and coats when you came in the door.  Your children are going to hear that request exactly as you stated it, as a wish--something they may grant or not grant.  That gets us to the second aspect of clarity:  how you say something.  Short and sweet.  When you really mean it, use simple phrases.  Meeting the kids at the door with Backpacks! Coats! said in a bright, cheery tone will get through much more effectively.  As a general rule of thumb, the younger the child, the fewer words you should use, and the more sing-songy your tone should be.  


CONNECTION


For the most part, kids really do want to be helpful.  They like being part of a warm family unit that is running along smoothly.  It is when they feel disconnected from you or are carrying stress and anxiety from some other part of their day, that they freeze up.  They get stuck.  Instead of going with the flow, they get fixated on something. It is a little like having a bad itch:  You are so distracted by the itch, that until you scratch it, you can't focus on anything else.  When your kids are in this state, they are not going to listen.  To get their attention, you are first going to need to attend to them as people.  Perhaps that means a hug right when they walk through the door or getting down to their eye level and making eye contact and telling them warmly I'm so glad to see you!  With some kids, a hug is too much, but you can take their hands in yours and squeeze. Having established that connection and reassured them with your words, tone and body language that you are the safe home base, your reminder of Backpacks! Coats! will have them hanging things up before they move into the rest of the house.  The reminder called from the other room when they are still carrying the emotional weight of their days, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.  

CONSISTENCY

Kids have pretty good radars for when you really mean something and when you don't really mean it yet. The best example of this is when we announce to our kids it is time to go.  Then we go back to our conversation or looking at our iPhone, neither of which communicate  anything about going.  A long time ago Garrison Keillor did a wonderful sketch called the Minnesota Good-Bye.  Sung to a tune by Handel, it started out with something like It really is time for us to be going with a response of Oh no, you can't possibly leave without one more slice of pie.  Well, maybe just one you say.  And so on.  In the song, it takes five minutes of pleasantries to get out the door.  Any child worth his self respect will keep right on playing through all this polite leave taking.  He knows he is not required until the adults are actually standing at an open door at the very least.  So, when you make a request, it is your job to mean it--and to mean it right when the request is made.  Certainly, you can give your kids a five minute warning, but when that five minute warning is up, your full attention needs to be on that child, seeing that she follows through on what you have asked. My suggestion is to do your own good-byes during that five minutes:  Sweetie, you have five more minutes to do one last thing, while I say good-bye here.  When that five minutes is up, you have to keep your promise and actually leave.  


REVIEW

1.  Only demand of your kids those things you are actually going to follow through on.  Expressing a demand as a wish or vague option leaves things wide open for your child to choose.  They may well hear you, but they do not register the request as something you are serious about.
2.  Use simple, clear language.  Even with 7th graders, I still get much further calling out "Line up, please!" firmly then "Okay, class.  It is time to line up now, if you please."  Some kids--often very brilliant ones--are slow processors.  The more words you give them, the more there is to process. 
3.  Speak with energy and conviction.  Your tone doesn't need to be strident, but it does need to mean business.  
4.  Check in with your kids on an emotional level first.  Don't shout orders from another room (Do you like it when they yell at you from another room?).  Go to them.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  If they are absorbed in a book or glueing something in place, get in close so they feel your presence, but try to give them a moment to get to a better stopping point.  If they continue to ignore you, you could give them a three minute warning (Darling, in 3-minutes I'm turning the machine off, so find a good stopping place before then) or you can put your hand on whatever it is they are doing.  Calmly, firmly, gently, you ask for their attention.
5.  Most importantly, you follow through by staying focused on them until what you ask for has happened.  Let's go back to the kids coming in the door.  You have hugs and love, you give the simple command clearly, and then you use your physical body to block their way out of the hall until backpacks and coats are hung up.  You can point to the hooks as a gentle reminder.  

If you are consistent with your behavior, your kids will listen to you pretty consistently.  They won't spend any energy asking themselves does mom really mean it?  Do I really have to respond now?  They will know that they can rely on you to follow through until they follow through.  

Give it a try.  If you have your doubts or try it and are still struggling, set up a free 20-minute consult with me HERE.  We will figure out what you might tweak to have cheerful, cooperative kids in no time.  

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My Spouse and I Just Can't Seem to Get on the Same Parenting Page

Elisabeth Stitt

I hear that from clients all the time.

In fact, the first time I heard it was from my sister complaining about my brother-in-law.  Now, my brother-in-law is just about the nicest, most generous man you can imagine.  I love being a guest in his house because the moment I walk in the door, he makes me feel like a queen who should get her every need and desire met.  Great qualities for a good host!  But unchecked, meeting a child's every desire is not healthy--especially when Hank would come in the room and contradict what my sister, Allie, had just said. 

The scene might go like this:

Kids:  We want waffles for breakfast!

Allie:I know you do, but we've run out of eggs, so it is going to be cereal this morning.

Kids:  But we want waffles!

Hank:  What's this? You want waffles?  Of course, you can have waffles!

Allie:  Hon, we have no eggs, and I've just told the kids it's cereal instead.

Kids:  But, Daddy, we want waffles!

Hank:  You want waffles?  We can do waffles.  I'll run to the store for eggs.

Lucky kids, right?  Yes, in the sense that they feel seen and heard and important, but kids really do need to learn that sometimes they don't get what they want.  Sometimes they have to make do with an alternative.  Most importantly, however, kids need to know that their parents are in agreement and that they won't undermine each other.  

My sister and brother-in-law are a great example of how qualities which are attractive in a mate--who wouldn't want to be made to feel like a queen?--are not always the ones you want in your child's father or mother--unless toned down to the common ground  Allie and Hank were eventually able to work out.  

And I get it. I've been there, too. Here's an example.  (It may seem petty, but the fact that it drives me nuts is exactly what makes co-parenting so hard.)  My husband is not a conserver of natural resources.  In other words, he leaves on every light in the house and he lets the water gush forth while shaving (Did I mention we live in drought-stricken California?).  In the interest of marital harmony--and perhaps because I am secretly envious of his confidence that the world will provide him all the resources he needs whenever he needs them--I had long since learned to roll my eyes at him rather than nag him to turn off the lights and the water.  

The day came, however, when I called to one of the kids to turn off the lights when leaving the house, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Why? Daddy never does."  You know in the cartoons when the character's face turns beat red and steam comes out of his ears?  Well, that was what I am sure I looked like. That innocent question was like waving a red flag in front of my face.  I'm afraid in the scene that followed I was not at my best.  

So, how do couples find common ground, so they can provide a united parenting front?

First, let's consider why issues with our spouse feel so much more charged when our children are involved.  Here's the thing.  We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids.  It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate.  So, yes, it is hard.  On the other hand, Penn State reported earlier this year in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (Indiver 19 January 2015).  That reminds us how very important it is to work on the issue, even when it is hard and really uncomfortable.  

But don't despair.  I have some tips for improving communication with your parenting partner.  Each of the tips is designed to increase the good will between partners--to prepare the soil for the really sticky points.  

TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING

 Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind.  But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart

Here’s how to do it:

 *      Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.

 *      Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

 *      Prompt information: Tell me more.  What else? What is important about that?

 *      Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.

 I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial.  For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires.  Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship.  By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to.  Think back to early in your relationship.  Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word.  Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.  

Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?”  This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like, “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.”  Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert.  What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?!  What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?!  

If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are likely to learn something really interesting.  Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt.  Now he wants his own kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive.  Perhaps he felt closer to God.  Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life.  

Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants his children to experience something that meaningful, too.  Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative. 

I know some of you are saying no way could I get my spouse to start talking like that, much less to learn to listen actively.  That's okay!  You will find a shift in your relationship, even if you practice active listening only from your side of the fence.  I want you to go and try it.  The next time your spouse says something--about the kids or otherwise--that gets your dander up, instead of getting angry (or sullen), start getting really, really interested.  I challenge  you!  And then leave a comment here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com about how it went.  You can also email me for a copy of my Constructive Couples Communication Webinar.  

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