Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to talk so your kids will too

Communication is paramount in the relationship with your children, or any healthy relationship for that matter. A lack of communication or deficits in this area can lead to problematic behaviors. Children face a lot of pressure and many emotions. They don’t always know how to express these emotions but the “pressure” has to come out somehow. If they don’t have the right tools to express themselves, problems can arise and it will start to manifest itself in the form of challenging behaviors.

This is even more so when it comes to children with special needs. If children did not learn the necessary skills, they will resort to methods that worked during the time they were babies: crying, screaming, throwing things, etc. As a child gets older and stronger, this can be incredibly problematic.

For this reason teaching and encouraging functional communication should be a key component of any school and parenting program.

An essential component of effective communication is to listen. This helps to make children feel comfortable and secure: you care about their feelings and needs, you respect their point of view, and you are interested in what they have to say.

As teachers and parents we can take important steps to build healthy communication repertoires. Both ways. I mean, you are talking and listening to them and at the same time you are teaching them how to talk and listen. How many times you felt as if they were not listening to you? Well, they felt the same. Every time you feel the other person is not listening to you is because you are not listening as well. Think about the other person as a mirror that reflects your image. So, the best way to get the other to listen, is to start listening.

Parents, teachers and caregivers can show and teach positive communication skills by:

Listen patiently before disciplining your kids. Instead of asking them to stop, encourage communication, even if they need to scream and cry for a little while. They probably need to vent, let the anger out before they talk about the problem. And do not interrupt or criticize when they are communicating. Keep in mind that communication is not only words. Crying, gestures, facial expressions, breathing patterns are all means of communication as well.  

Do not rush to give solutions or directions, in many cases venting is what the other person needs.

Clarify the situation by paraphrasing what your child is saying. Repeat back to your child what he said. This helps your child feel that you are listening.

Give them the opportunity to solve the problem by themselves, coach them in the right direction so they feel they discover the solution.

Encourage your children to express their opinions by just responding “Yes” or “Really?” Ask them open-ended questions such as “How would you feel if that would happened to you?”, or “What is the right thing to do?” If needed provide them with 2-3 choices.

Speak calmly, especially during stressful situations. This is a skill difficult to achieve, but it can go a long way. When they are stressed they need you to calm them down rather than stress them further.

Do not discuss discipline during stressful situations, such as when your child is hungry, tired, or upset. Deescalate the situation and wait for a good moment to discuss behaviors and solutions.

Use a positive language. Instead of telling your kids what not to do (i.e. “Stop screaming”) tell them what to do (i.e. “If you use your words I can understand you and help you”).

Focus on the behaviors, not the person. For example, instead of saying “You are a bad boy because you don’t want to clean up” try “Your room is messy, please, clean up your toys.”

It is important to teach your children that it is okay to disagree or be upset, as long as they express their opinions and feelings in an appropriate manner. Emotions are always okay, behaviors can be problematic. Validate their feelings by saying “You seem very upset”, or “You are mad, and I understand why”, for example.

Create opportunities to communicate with your children by:

Read to them: ask questions about the story, make comments, and relate the story to real life situations.

Have family outings for the purpose of spending time together.

Make time to play with them, preferably daily.

Have at least one family meal a day and encourage conversations between all family members. Remember, kids learn what they see, not what you told them. Adults conversing can be a strong model for your kids.

Be sure to make eye contact when talking to your children. Giving instructions or asking questions from the other room or while talking on the phone? Not a good idea.

I would like to recommend some good books about this subject:

“How to talk so your kids will listen, and listen so your kids will talk”, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.

‘Raising your spirited child”, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

“Everyday opportunities for extraordinary parenting”, Bobbi Conner.

In summary, the best approach to listening and talking is to do so in the way you would like the other person to listen and talk to you. This is the healthiest way.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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