7 Ways to Talk to Kids More Effectively

How to get your child to listen when you talk

Ways to communicate effectively with kids
Connect with your child every day to improve communication. Getty Images/Tetra Images

Does it sometimes feel like your child seems to be listening to you, only to do something moments later that shows that she clearly was not paying attention? There are a number of reasons why your child may not be listening: You could be saying too much; her attention could be focused somewhere else while you're talking; or you're consistently not following your words with action (saying, "I'm going to take away TV time if you don't turn that off right now" and then never doing so, for instance).

Whatever the reason for your child's disconnection, try these strategies to get your child's full attention the next time you want to have a conversation with her.

  1. Get down to her level. Sit together so that you're not towering over your child and you can look into each other's eyes.
  2. Give him your full attention, and ask for the same in return. Try not to discuss things with your child while you're making dinner, checking email, and doing a dozen other things. And put down that cell phone: Research has shown that kids know when you are distracted; a recent survey found that 62 percent of kids said that their parents are distracted when they try to talk to them, and the main cause of the distraction was cell phones.
  3. If there is a problem, stay positive and speak firmly. Do not yell or lose your temper. Yelling teaches your child that aggression is okay; but yelling is not respectful and it loses its effectiveness over time, causing a child to retreat rather than engage with you. When you stay in control and remain calm, on the other hand, you can express yourself clearly, and you set a good role model for your child to follow when she has a problem she needs to resolve.
  1. Don't over-explain. Young children in particular lose focus when you explain things too much; keep your explanations simple and short.
  2. Meet defiance and tantrums with calm and Zen discipline. Kids can be very, very good at pushing a parent's anger buttons. From backtalk to defiance to tantrums, children can have an arsenal of bad behavior to test you with. But the calmer you are, the less fuel your child will have to fuel his negative emotions, and he'll calm down.
  1. Do something together. As counter-intuitive as this sounds, sometimes kids reveal the most about themselves while you're doing ordinary, everyday activities together like making dinner or sorting laundry. And studies have shown that regular dinners can have an astonishing range of positive developmental benefits for kids including better health and nutrition, strong mental and emotional skills, and better academic achievement.
  2. Ask specific questions. When parents ask questions like, "How was school?" or "How was the movie?" they're likely to get short answers like, "Good" or "Fine." But if you ask more detailed questions such as, "What was the silliest thing that happened in school today?" or "What was the worst thing the bad guys did in the movie you saw?" you're more apt to get details.

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