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10 tips to communicate effectively with your children

From “blah, blah, blah” to real communication

 “Pick up your toys.”

“Caleb, I asked you to pick up your toys.”

“Calebbbb! Pick up your toys NOW!”

Any parent will be familiar with the rising annoyance of being tuned out by their kids. But the word from psychologists and specialists in children’s behaviour is that you have to take some responsibility for the way you convey your message.

Here’s the problem: barking orders will get anyone’s defenses up , long strings of instruction get lost in translation, and nagging tends to sound like “blah, blah, blah” in youthful ears. Read on for ten tips on communicating with your kids.

  1. Keep the drone to a minimum 
    Children get a dozen directives a day from parents including: “Put your coat on.” “Go to the bathroom.” “Change that t-shirt.” Psychologists call these ‘compliance requests,’ and kids become deaf to them. Why? Because we ask once, politely. When there’s no response, we ask again. When we still don’t see the required behaviour, we lose it. The problem: we’re teaching kids that it’s only important to comply when a parent turns into a screaming Mimi. Next time, try saying it once with meaning and then follow through with a logical consequence if your kids don’t do as you’ve asked.
  2. Get up close and personal 
    Make sure you have your child’s attention in the first place. Too often we toss off requests over our shoulder as we zoom around the house doing other tasks. It’s easy for kids to ignore us. Instead, get down to their level and look in their eyes. Use their name or gently hold their hands and say, “Are you listening to what I’m saying? Good, now I want you to clean up your toys for me.”
  3. Speak softly (but don’t carry a big stick) 
    You wouldn’t yell instructions to the folks at work (at least we hope not!), so show your children the same courtesy. Speaking softly, calmly and kindly shows respect and increases the likelihood your kids will respond positively.
  4. Be as specific as possible 
    “Clean your room” is a pretty general instruction. Try creating a to-do list with check-boxes for putting dirty clothes in the hamper, cleaning out plates and cups from snacking sessions, making the bed and returning books to the shelves.
  5. Give them advance notice 
    It can be difficult for kids to switch gears. Give them time to adjust to the idea that playtime is over with a five-minute warning: “We’re going to head home in five minutes Suzie.”
  6. Be flexible on timing 
    If it’s not urgent, allow some leeway around when you expect children to perform a specific task. Most of us don’t enjoy being interrupted while we’re doing something we like, only to be told to do something we don’t enjoy. Giving kids some control over the timeline makes them feel less like a puppet. Just make sure the deadline is clear: “Okay, so you’ll clean your room by the end of the day – is that the deal?”
  7. Aim for buy-in 
    When kids help create the rules, they’re more likely to abide by them, which saves you from having to continuously tell them what to do. Teens can be particularly resistant if the rules don’t make sense to them, so it’s better to get them involved. But even kids as young as three can help put rules into words and set consequences if the rules aren’t followed.
  8. Harness the power of the written word 
    Writing can take some of the sting out of difficult communications and eliminate the note of irritation that may creep into your voice. Try leaving a note on paper or a blackboard making simple requests such as “Please empty the dishwasher. Thanks!”
  9. Make sure not all your communication is negative 
    Let’s face it – a good number of our interactions with kids involve instruction and correction. But research suggests parents and kids with a healthy relationship communicate about any number of things instead of simply engaging when there’s trouble. The good news: when you offer your children your attention and conversation, they may be less likely to act out.
  10. Give praise where praise is due 
    Want to increase the chance your child will comply next time? Offer praise and encouragement, such as: “You’re the best! Thanks so much for giving me a hand buddy!”


The information above is provided for informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Foresters Financial.










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Camilla Cornell

Camilla Cornell is an award winning freelance writer. She writes about all aspects of personal finance, from the real cost of raising kids to budgeting, insurance and retirement planning. Her articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Financial Post, MoneySense and Today's Parent, among other publications.