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If you’ve ever been out in public or been shopping at a large department store, you have been witness to parents screaming at their kids while the kids are screaming back at them. Not an effective means of conveying a message to a child.

Effective conversations with your children

As soon as the parent turns his or her back, the kid is back doing whatever it was the parent was screaming at them for in the first place.  Not an effective means of conveying a message to a child. 

Effective conversations with your children should begin as soon as the child is old enough to want to convey a message to you; even before the child is able to vocalize the message.  Speaking down to or screaming at your child has never and will never be an effective way to talk to your kids to get them to listen to what you are saying.

Children learn by examples; the examples being you, as the parent.  If you scream at your child, your child will scream back at you.  If you speak softly, clearly, and directly to your child, this is how your child will speak to you.  The key point to be made here is that you need to begin talking to your children in this manner while they are still young and impressionable.  I will add, however, it is never too late to break the cycle; it just is a bit harder to get them to listen if all they have known is yelling and screaming. 

The difference between talking to and talking with your child

It’s important to understand that there is a difference between talking to your child and talking with your child.  Talking to your child is a one-sided conversation.  Talking with your child allows the child the opportunity to talk with you.  There are times when you just need to talk to your child; when there is no discussion involved on the child’s part.  These occasions are generally when the child has broken a rule and is being told the consequences of that behavior.  On these occasions, you should be at eye level with your child and speak clearly and in an even tone.  Raising your voice will only make the child fearful as well as more ashamed.

You should explain the rule, how the child broke the rule, and what the consequence of that behavior will be.  It is very important that you ask the child if he or she understands what you are saying.  After this conversation has ended and the child understands what you are saying, this is when you should talk with your child about why you have rules and boundaries.  This gives the child the opportunity to ask questions concerning the rules and lets your child know that you care about his opinion about that matter.  Every child tests the boundaries; it is natural and very common.

How you, as the parent, handle the situation greatly affects the way the child will adjust to the consequences of his actions. Making a child feel ashamed or guilty may cause him to feel insecure about exploring the world around him. 

Talking with your children as they get older

As children get older they will begin to voice their opinions.  I found it very important to allow my children to speak their minds as long as they are respectful.  You may find that rules that as your children get older, the rules need to be updated to suit their age.  This is a good opportunity for you to talk with your child about the rules and what they think needs to be updated.  Listening to their point of view lets them see that you care about the world they are living in, which is far different than the world you are living in, from the child’s perspective. 

When your child comes to you with a question, make it a point to stop what you are doing and pay close attention to what he is saying.  Effective listening is just as important as effective talking; they go hand in hand and one without the other voids the effectiveness of the conversation.

Consider how you feel when you are trying to convey your thoughts to somebody and they are distracted by something else and not paying attention to what you are saying.  That is how your child feels when you don’t take the time to really listen to what he has to say.  If your children see that you are paying attention to them when they are talking with you, they, in turn, will pay attention to you when you are talking with them.  That constitutes an effective conversation.

Effectively talking with your teenagers

Talking with your teenagers tends to be a bit more difficult because they suddenly have a whole new perspective on life.  They become selfish, self-centered, and tend to think that anything that comes out of their parent’s mouth sounds like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoon.  They will have opinions about everything and may tend to voice them loud and clear.  The rules do not change as to how you talk with a teenager from how you talked with your younger child.

Pay attention to them; look them in the eye and allow them to respectfully speak their minds.  Then you return the conversation in the same manner by speaking to them respectfully, looking them in the eye, and acknowledging you understand their point of view.  It doesn’t have to be a shouting match; you can actually have adult conversations with your teenagers if you both maintain your composure. 

Teenagers will test the boundaries any chance they get and it is up to you to make sure they know exactly where those boundaries are.  Believe it or not, kids, even teenagers, want to know the boundaries and desire that structure in their lives.  They may tell you it’s not fair and give you a hundred reasons why it isn’t fair, but when it comes down to it, they need and desire the rules and boundaries that structure their lives.

The mistake so many parents make is that it is easier to let the kid slide when he breaks the rules than to sit down and discuss the consequences of breaking that rule and risk sending the kid into a teenage frenzy.  Once you let them slide the first time, you can bet they will use this against you in the future.  You have to maintain a strong and effective means of conversation with your teenagers or else they will do whatever they want to do, despite the rules. 

Start young and stay strong

The sooner you begin having effective conversations with your children the easier it will be as they grow older.  When children adapt to the boundaries and rules it becomes a part of the life style and it is far easier for this adaptation to occur when they are young rather than waiting until they are older and more independent. 

I’ve walked the walk; been there done that; it’s not easy, but the alternative is nothing short of hell.  Effectively talking to your kids may be the most important aspect of parenting; if you can master that, the rest is a breeze.