Get Kids To Listen
Communicate More Effectively
Reduce Family Fighting
Anyone has the power to transform relationships, even a 9-year-old boy.
True Story: There’s this family that seems to fight all the time.
The parents can’t get kids to listen and the kids don’t feel like the parents listen. They can’t seem to talk without fighting, and every comment is either a criticism, projection or sarcastic remark. The family is struggling just to be in the same room without some dramatic war of words.
It’s Time For Some Help
To help this family with their communications, a Just Thinking’s coach created a game called “This House Rules” and showed up at their house. He had a paper crown, a buzzer and a bag of candy. The entire family had to play the game, which was to have a conversation following the three rules of healthy communication.
- Share on yourself.
- Ask a question.
- Answer a question.
Sound simple? Each time someone spoke and followed one of the three rules, they would receive a piece of candy. If they spoke and didn’t use one of the rules, they were buzzed out of the game. At the end of the first round, the 9-year-old was the last player and given the paper crown.
The 9-year-old won…and was NOT happy about it. He wanted the game to continue so that he could get more candy.
So the youngest family member “helped” his sisters and parents stay in the game and follow the three rules. He would share on himself and then slowly ask a question related to his sharing, so as to simplify the game and make it easy for his family members to answer the question.
He was able to transform the way they communicated with each other, and he’s still in elementary school.
The 3 Parts of a Successful “Unfight”
As a coach, I use the rules above and call them the “Unfight Rules.”
Why? Because it’s tough to get into a fight if you follow them.
Rule #1. Share on Self
This rule means that you start every sentence with an “I” statement.
What to Do
For example, “I feel upset when you say you don’t trust me,” or “I am worried about your grades.” If you start a sentence with the word “I,” the listener recognizes that there is nothing against which to defend. You are sharing something about yourself, and the person listening can take in the information. It’s a way to open the door in the listener’s mind, so it can digest the information and then respond.
What Not to Do
The opposite of this rule is to start a sentence with the word “you,” like “you need to get your act together” or “you are always late for school.” There is no quicker way to shut the door in a listener’s brain than to point a finger and utter “you” at them. Pointing a finger creates an offensive/defensive stance, where both parties are thinking of comebacks rather than listening to each other’s words. Both sides will feel bad about the encounter, which will get stored in the brain’s hard drive making it harder to communicate with this person in the future.
Don’t make it harder for your kids to talk to you. Get kids to listen through effective communication, not confrontation.
Rule #2. Ask a Question
Use What and How Questions
I like to use “what” and “how” questions only. When you ask a “what” or “how” question, the recipient is being asked to reflect on themselves to answer. For example, “what did you expect would happen” or “how can I help you work through this.” Again, this opens the door in the brain so it can think, reflect, listen and articulate thoughts.
In the world of coaching, we are taught to use “what” and “how” questions from a place of genuine curiosity so as to initiate self-discovery and awareness. When a person discovers something about themselves as a result of having a discussion with you, you can bet that they are going to like speaking with you and want more.
Why Not ‘Why’?
“Why” questions put recipients on the defensive. Using “why” to uncover information makes the listener feel the need to defend their thoughts and actions. Compare these next two questions. “Why didn’t you take out the trash?” “I noticed the trash didn’t get taken out, what happened?”
The first question is received with the assumption that someone screwed up, whereas the second question gives the listener the benefit of the doubt as though something must have gotten in the way of taking out the trash.
Which way would you prefer to be addressed?
[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”@liesaboutparent”]If we want to get kids to listen, we need to be better listeners.[/pullquote]
Rule #3. Answer a Question
Answers Are Required
Sounds obvious, but anyone with a child knows that not all questions get an answer. If someone is asking a question of you, answer it. An honest answer to “what’s your problem” can be that you feel tired, frustrated or worried.
While the question may come across as an attack, you can diffuse the energy by only answering it following the “Unfight Rules.”
It shows the other person that you are both listening to and answering their question, which can immediately put some ease into the conversation. It shows the speaker that you take them seriously, and you are prepared to have a discussion.
There are other options to responding to a question.
- Silence: You can choose not to answer it and say nothing, but that is simply a play for power. By not answering, you say to the other person that you want to take over control of the discussion. Meeting your child’s question with silence may let you win the battle for control, but you’ve lost the chance to learn, convey, and connect.
- Avoidance: Another option is to speak but not give an answer. Again, if the goal is to control the conversation, then this can be effective. However, if the aim is to bond with someone and have a healthy conversation, then this tactic won’t get the job done.
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Get Kids To Listen, By Listening
If you focus on the three rules, you may find that it forces you to listen at a deeper level. Imagine how your family will feel about each other if they feel heard and understood.
By using the “Unfight Rules,” your confidence around entering into a difficult or emotionally charged conversation will increase. By confronting issues in a productive manner, you are showing others that you care about them and want to learn about and understand their needs.
The real beauty is that anyone can follow the “Unfight Rules” and change an unhealthy communication dynamic into a healthy one… even a 9-year-old boy.
Great post. As a child and family therapist I work a lot with kids who fight a lot with their siblings and it drives their parents crazy. I love these 3 “Unfight” rules and I plan to implement them with the families I work with. Thanks again for the post.
Loved this feed and I learned a few great tips. However I would like to add that both parents NEED to follow through this plan and ways of communicating with children, or it leads to confusion and hard work left incomplete. All parties need to see want to help unfigt the family.
Shannon, YES! Thanks for adding that.
Absolutely in agreement! Being on the same page is critical. Thanks for the important reminder.
So true! And so humbling! Well put, Allison… thanks for the great insights and gentle reminder that I’m not ALWAYS right 😉