Parenting Coach Heather Lindsay from Blissed Out Mums shares her expert tips on communicating with your child.
Have you ever just wanted to speak, and have your child listen AND do exactly what you say? We’ve all been there. We need our kids to listen because things have to get done! We have to get out the door, need to get to swimming lessons, toys need to be packed up... And when kids don’t listen, we resort to yelling just to be heard. But there's another way.
The solution comes from the world of hypnosis (yes, hypnosis). Although we aren’t going to actually hypnotise our children; instead, let’s just strategically use specific words and phrases to help influence them to do what we need them to do. Here are seven language keys to help get your child to listen."
1. Mind reading
In order for our child to want to listen, our requests of our children should be positive and pre-empt any problems that will prevent our child from cooperating with us. For example: “I know it’s not easy for you to read, and we’re going to try this new game to help you.” In this example, it will be easy for you to say “I know…” because you’re parent and you know your child at the closest level. It’s why Mum knows all those little things that make a household run smoothly that insiders don’t know.
2. Double bind
You are probably already using this one! This is where you give your child two alternatives, you want them to chose one. They both end up at the same place, but it gives your child the illusion of choice. When they have this illusion, they are more likely to do what you need them to do. For example: “You can have a bath now, or after doing that puzzle.” This language technique helps children to feel empowered and respected – so important for their emotional and mental health.
3. Avoiding "Why?"
How many times have you said “Why?” to your child throughout the day? It’s not a useful question. It cements justifications, often negative beliefs or actions, and ultimately doesn’t result in a resolution to the problem. Often you’ll be met with the response of “I don’t know…” Instead, there are three questions you should ask:
1. “What’s the purpose of throwing the toys on the floor?” – This finds the intention or the root cause of the behaviour.
2. “What specifically are you angry about?” – Finds the purpose.
3. “How do you know that she doesn’t like you?” – Finds the reason for belief.
Now, it is quite possible that your young child may not be able to give you a complete answer to one of these questions. However, questioning them in this manner stretches their thinking patterns and grows their neural network.
4. Tag questions
To help motivate our children and get them to do what we want and need them to do, we must remove the negative from a situation, displace resistance, and get them in the "yes" frame. Basically, have them excited to help us do what needs to get done. For example: “This is fun, isn’t it?”
This doesn’t work on a single incident, but through regular use. Let’s think of an example.
Putting away the toys: “Let’s put the toys away together. This is fun isn’t it?”
Then, the next time: “Remember how much fun we had putting the toys away? Let's do it again!” This will decrease the resistance, and they will be more likely to help you tidy up without complaining (bonus!).
5. Make things positive
This is about embedding into the unconscious mind the positive. For example: “It’s fun to learn like this, isn’t it?”
This is really good for children when you’re doing homework, especially in the early years when you want to create a positive foundation for learning. Even though your child may turn around and say “no” or have a tantrum, they have still heard the phrase “fun to learn”, and this is what is embedded into their unconscious mind, so it puts a more positive spin on learning.
6. Empathise with their experience
When your child is struggling with something, and you know both why they are and the positive outcomes that will come after this hard part, you can future pace them and give them resources to help manage the current struggle. For example: “I know that you don’t want to put the toys away, and when we’ve put them away together, we can sit down and have some afternoon tea.”
This phrase works because you demonstrate respect for the now, provided a solution (suggesting to do it together), and reframe it to a positive without dismissing how the child is feeling.
7. The power of imagination
Use your child’s imagination for your mutual benefit! This is a strategy for learning that stimulates children to think and learn when giving human characteristics to objects. Perfect for help tidying up the bedroom: “Teddy feels lonely on the floor under the bed. He’d much rather sit up next to Bella Bunny and give her a cuddle on the bed where it is warm.”
And then you can go into a bit of play acting together. It creates fun and definitely creates cooperation.
Now, these seven strategies take practice, and you may find yourself tripping over your words or forgetting to use them. Practise, practise, practise - you will get there! These specific language tools work because of the way humans communicate; you just need to use them in a consistent and gentle manner.