By middle school, kids tune out parents and tune into peers. They get defensive as soon as they hear a mom or dad’s’ voice. Shields go up and good advice can’t get through. How can you get your kids to listen? Here are five basic steps to help. I use them in my work everyday talking with children. You can too.
Step One: Don’t lead with advice. Don’t start off a conversation with solutions or directives. Kids automatically hear it as “you messed up” or “you can’t think for yourself.” That shuts down their active listening.
Step Two: Join in. Start a conversation by sincerely acknowledging how they feel and what they’re going through. For example, “Wow – that’s terrible you’re friend didn’t invite you… sorry… that must hurt a lot.” And stop it there. Let a few seconds or minutes of silence go by. This is how kids share problems with one another. I’ve heard it many times in my work. And I’ve found that using this style of interacting really helps when I need to communicate something very important and sensitive.
Step Three: Don’t lecture. In my work, I frequently see parents lecturing their kids about what they already know. The more a parent does this – the less a child listens.
Step Four: Pose questions (don’t offer solutions). This encourages children to think for themselves. I tell parents to Position Yourself as a Learner. Truly listen and learn from your kids. Don’t interrupt. Show you want to learn about their world, who they are, and how they think. Bite your tongue when you get that urge to offer advice. Keep your anxiety at bay. Stop the impulse to teach and fix every problem because it makes you nervous.
Step Five: Ask permission to offer advice. Say, “I have an idea… you want to hear what I’m thinking… could help?” If they decline your offer, respect that. Wait. Try another time. In many cases, giving them a little space allows them to circle back to you when they’re ready to listen.
That’s when your advice gets through and takes hold.