Helping Kids Communicate the “Old Fashion Way”

by | May 31, 2013 | Communication, Listening

Tips to help our digital natives learn to talk-not text-and even converse!

Here’s the hot parenting question for today (at least the one I’m asked quite frequently): “How do you boost communication skills with today’s digital natives who would rather text than talk?” It’s a great question. So here’s today’s Reality Check:

Today’s kids send and receive an average of 88 texts a day [Pew].

We know that effective communication is critical for boosting our relationship with our kids. We also know that children who are know how to listen are often kids who are well-liked. Communication skills are also core for boosting our children’s confidence, leadership skills, relationship success as well as in their career.

Here’a four-part formula I learned way back when I was working on my doctorate. It still is one of the most effective formulas that invites kids to talk as well as strengthen family ties. Of course, the best way to learn any new skill is by modeling and practicing!

Do remember to set “sacred, unplugged family times when there nothing “plugged in” is allowed–only face-to-face communication!

Using the technique of active listening is one of the easiest as well as most powerful ways to encourage kids to encourage your child to speak up and share his feelings, ideas and experiences. The best lessons in active listening I learned not from a textbook or class but from my son, Adam, when he was just two. Whenever we would talk, he had a habit of taking my chin in his hand and pulling my face towards him, so my eyes were directly in front of his face. His actions were crystal clear: Adam wanted my complete attention. The way he knew I was listening was by seeing my eyes exclusively on his eyes. That’s what our kids want most: knowing we’re really listening and interested in what they have to say. Using active listening with our kids conveys that message to them.

A Four-Part Formula That Invites Kids to Talk..Not Text

Here’s a four-part formula for using active listening adapted from the work of outstanding communication experts, Dr. Thomas Gordon and Dr. Haim Ginott. As with any technique, learning the formula takes practice and effort, but the benefits are enormous for enhancing your family’s communication. It’s also a wonderful way to develop a warmer and more intimate relationship with your child. And, best yet, watching you do it is the best way for your child to recognize what good listening behaviors look and sound like. He’ll be more likely to use the skill in his own life.

Part 1. Listen with Full Attentiveness

Eleven-year-old Yuki came back from gymnastics quite upset and sank into the couch. Seeing her daughter’s distress, her mom quickly put down her book, sat facing her, and gently took her hand. She wanted her daughter to know she was completely there for her.

Yuki’s mom is demonstrating the  first part of active listening: stop everything and focus completely on your child so he feels you’re hearing him. Your full attentiveness makes it easier for your child to talk, and keeps your lines of communication open.

Part 2. Offer a Word to Encourage the Dialogue

“I’m never going back there again,” cried Yuki. “Oh?” her mom  said and waited to see if her daughter would say anything more. When she didn’t, she simply restated the last thing Yuki said, “You’re never going back.” “That’s for sure, never!” exclaimed her daughter. “All my teacher does is yell at me, because I can’t do anything right.”

The second part of active listening is usually the hardest: don’t interrupt  your child or offer any opinion. Your silence at this stage can be golden. The fact you’re there to listen is usually all your child really needs. Besides, the last thing kids want to hear is our advice. To let him know you’re interested, just offer a nonjudgmental word or two to encourage his talking such as: “Oh?”, “I see…”, “Really?”, or even “Mmmm.” Dr. Thomas Gordon, renown communication authority, also suggests simply repeating back your child’s last phrase:

            Child: “I can’t stand being around Kevin this year.”

            Adult: “You can’t stand being around Kevin.”

            Child: “You bet I can’t. He’s so bossy and mean all the time.”

 Part 3. Reflect the Message’s Feeling Content to Your Child

Yuki’s mom wondered if the class would be too hard. Now she knew. The distraught look on her daughter’s face crushed her,  so she said, “You look so upset, Yuki.” And then she waited for her daughter’s reaction to see if she was right. It didn’t take long, “You bet I’m upset. How would you feel if your teacher picked on you  in front of all the other kids?”

When you recognize how your child is feeling, describe the feeling to your child, “Looks like you’re angry.”, “You seem really frustrated.”, “Sounds like you’re irritated.”, or “You seem unhappy.” This simple act helps keep your dialogue open, because your child knows you’re really trying to understand him.

The biggest communication stopper parents make at this point is trying to solve the problem for their kids. So, don’t say anything for a few seconds and wait for your child to answer. Usually your child will tell you you’re either wrong or right, and you can respond to his reaction. Either way, the communication between you continues, which is exactly what you want to happen.

Part  4. Reassure Your Child With Empathy

Yuki’s mom gently put her arm around her daughter and said, “I’m so sorry you had such a bad day.” “The class is just too hard, Mom,” Yuki sighed. “Do you think I can maybe enroll in another class instead?” Her mom smiled. That’s just what she was thinking and said, “That’s a great idea, Yuki. Let’s look into it first thing after school tomorrow. Thanks for telling me your problem.”  And Yuki gave her mom a quick hug and ran off to call her friend.

End your conversation with a response that conveys your support: “I hope things work out.”, “I’m so sorry.”, or “I’m here if you need me.” Wait to see if your child needs anything else: advice, a hug, reassurance, or even a quick game of hoops, and thank your child for sharing. 

Parents Do Make a Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds and Caring HeartsI find the hardest part of active listening is not giving my advice unless my kids ask for it. Sometime the urge is so strong, I have to say inside my head, “Don’t say anything. Be quiet.”   And I’m always glad I did.

I find by being quiet my kids are more talkative and generally solve their own problems just because they talked it through aloud. I’m sure my goal is the same as yours: to always to keep the communication doors open so my kids will feel comfortable coming back and telling me anything!

Dr. Michele Borba

Portions of this blog were adapted from my book, Parents DO Make a Difference. 

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba or subscribe to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check.

For more about me see my website, Dr. Michele Borba