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The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out
Did you know that yelling at your child can cause just as much damage to them as hitting them? 1 The majority of parents resort to yelling, screaming, or simply raising their voices when they are trying to get a message through to their child who is acting out. They know that yelling isn’t the best way to parent, yet time and time again they find themselves raising their voice as it seems to be the fall back method to get their child to listen.Did you know that yelling at your child can cause just as much damage to them as hitting them? 1 The majority of parents resort to yelling, screaming, or simply raising their voices when they are trying to get a message through to their child who is acting out. They know that yelling isn’t the best way to parent, yet time and time again they find themselves raising their voice as it seems to be the fall back method to get their child to listen.
The Problem of Yelling: It’s Too Weak to Change a Child’s Behaviors
The problem with being a parent who makes it a habit of yelling, is that this tactic can be as damaging as hitting your child and the yelling often becomes ineffective, which is exemplified by parents who increase the volume of their yelling over time. Parents will raise their voices louder and louder, until it reaches a point where every time they go to correct their child they yell at maximum volume, as this has become the habit and way for getting any reaction out of the child. If the yelling has no consequences other than the yelling itself, most kids find this is not a strong enough deterrent or effective agent of change to permanently change their behavior.
An Effective Parenting Approach Can Be a Whisper With Prompt Results
Effective parenting uses a softer approach that not only communicates to the child on their level for greater understanding but also uses an approach that has immediate consequences that are consistently utilized.
There are ways of parenting that use a softer approach that actually get children to obey. If parents start using a “One Ask Approach”, they will find their children listen the first time they say things.2 It isn’t magical though. It takes time and consistency. The child needs to understand that if they are given a warning and they still fail to obey then a consequence immediately follows.
Parents who are consistent with the follow through will see that over time they can even whisper the warning to their child and get effective and prompt results. Yelling is not efffective in the long run. However, since yelling is the most habitually used parenting tactic when children act out, the one ask approach needs to be better understood and practiced by parents in order to reduce their habit of yelling.
Use the “One Ask Approach”
The one ask approach is simply a method of parenting that involves warning your child only once and if they don’t alter their behavior the consequence/punishment immediately follows. There are three basic steps for a parent to follow:
1. When the child does something wrong, they are told only once how and why their behavior needs to change or there will be a specific consequence.
For example, if your child is jumping on their bed you simply state “you need to stop jumping on your bed by the count of 3 because I don’t want you to fall off the bed and get hurt. If you don’t stop jumping by the count of 3 you will be put in time out for 5 minutes”. This warning is only said once and is said in a calm yet firm tone. No yelling or raising of voices is involved.
2. Thank the child for listening; don’t give multiple warnings if they don’t listen.
If the child stops the behavior, commend them and say thank you for listening. If they don’t stop, you do not give another warning, or multiple warnings as this will become what they expect, so they will not listen the first time. If they failed to follow instructions, it is time to immediately follow through on the consequence.
3. Talk with the child on their level following the punishment.
The level of the offense determines the level of discussion needed. If it is for jumping on the bed, you can simply express to your child on their level that you would be very sad if they fell off the bed and got hurt. You have these rules to protect them because you love them.
Being consistent with your words and actions will help your child learn that you mean business when you speak to them about their behavior.
The warnings have to include very specific and realistic consequences for their actions. If they know you won’t follow through, for example, by threatening to let them out of the car on the side of the freeway, then they likely won’t change their behavior because the threat is not valid. Use realistic threats and consequences you can follow through with immediately. Time outs and taking away privileges are the most often utilized effective threats and consequences. These are the easist for parents to implement as well.
Behavioral change happens in the heart to make the change permanent.
There are key components to talking with your child to help them understand their behavior issues in their heart and not just in their mind. After all, if they are just acting robotically because of fear of consequence, then their mindset has not changed. Parents need to get to the root and core of the problem. That way the child’s heart is affected and they understand their need for change emotionally (heart) and intellectually (mind). Here are some tips of doing just that:
Get on Their Level
If you are preaching down to your child, your message is likely to go over their head or in one ear and out the other. They don’t want to tune into your message if you are towering over them, shaking your finger, and using a stern or harsh voice (even if you aren’t yelling). To communicate with your child, here are 7 ways to speak so they listen and take the message to heart.
1. Physically get on their level.
Crouch down or sit down on the ground in front of your child so that you are at eye level. Use eye contact while speaking so can connect. It is a powerful tool in human communication that we, as parents, often take for granted. Look your child in the eyes so they know they matter and that you are serious about the conversation.
2. Use their name.
Make it personal. Use their first name when speaking to them, so they know it is about them and not anyone else around. Be sure to maintain that eye contact as you say their name and focus on them only.
3. Use a softer approach.
Compassion is what is needed when you really want to yell at your child. What parents need to remember is that your child is just that, a child. They don’t have all of our life experience, wisdom, or working brain activity. They are still learning and growing, so speak with compassion and understanding recognizing that your three year old is acting like a year old, acceptable or not. When conveying your message use a softer tone of voice but one that is firm to convey that you mean while you are saying. Avoid yelling as it will cause your child to either shut down or to act out even further.
4. Keep the message simple.
Small children are not capable of understanding big words and big concepts. Keep your message simple and brief. They have short attention spans, so you will lose their attention if you drone on and on. Say what you need to say in a few brief sentences that a child can understand. Avoid big words and anything that is going to cause them to be confused about the issue.
4. Listen when they speak.
When you are getting on a child’s level to communicate, it should not be a one way street or it will just be preaching to them. Allow time for the child to respond to your words, to converse, and to actually listen intently to what they are saying. Remember that your ability to express yourself verbally is much greater than that child’s. Be understanding of the message they are trying to convey, as it may be the only way they know how to say it.
5. Use “I” statements and encourage the child to as well.
Start your statements with “I”. If you start off by saying “you are always hitting your brother” it is not as effective a saying “I am sad that you hit your brother”. Showing the emotional connection and how their actions affect others, including your own feelings is much more likely to affect the child’s heart than simply stating the offence.
Encourage your child to respond using “I” start as well. It creates less anamosity and playing the blame game when “I” statements are used. It is taking things from a personal perceptive, with responsibility for one’s own role in that situation. An example of this in day-to-day parenting is rather than yelling “get down from that table you are going to break it!”; Instead you speak calmly and say “please get off the table, I don’t want your to hurt yourself because that would make me sad”.
Using your feelings and “I” statements are much more effective in getting through to the child. Children have a much greater understanding of feelings than many adults realize. Children can relate to feelings, so it is important that parents express their own feelings so that a connection is made on their level when discussing a behavioral issue.
6. Show them you understand by paraphrasing their words.
It is great to do all those previous steps, but they are not helpful unless the child feels understood and heard. Show them you understand their perspective even if you may not always agree.
Paraphrase their words back to them, that way they know you were listening. You can follow up with explanation if you feel their logic is wrong, but be sure to first repeat back to them what they said in a paraphrase, so they know their message got through to you. They are less likely to argue with your follow up parenting lesson if they know their side of the story and perspective was taken into consideration and understood.
The best way to show them you understood their message is to say it back. For example your child may say “I never get to ride on the scooter because Charlie is always hogging it”. You repeat back “you feel that Charlie is always on the scooter so you never get a turn to ride it”. Now you know this is incorrect because you saw her riding the scooter 10 minutes ago. You can follow up with that after your paraphrase, but perhaps it is then even better followed up with a discussion of setting up a timer so that each child gets equal time on this scooter.
Have the Child Put Themselves in Another’s Shoes
When dealing with issues where two children are involved, it is important that both children try to see the other’s perspective, especially the offending child.
When you get down on their level and speak to your child using the 7 tips listed above, you will find they are more willing to put themselves in another person’s shoes. Doing this gives them a perspective of other people and they are likely to show a lot more compassion.
Actively help them to think from another person’s perspective.
Compassion is something most of us learn over a lifetime, let’s give our kids a head start now by consistently and activity helping them to see the perspective of others by asking them to “put yourself in his/her shoes”. Don’t just ask them to do that though, make sure they respond with how they would feel if they were in that person’s position or situation. Processing of those thoughts is what causes the change in their mind and heart to commence.
For example, you take your kids to the park to play and they begin arguing over the same sand toy. One hits the other square on the mouth resulting in lots of screaming from the injured child. After you console and treat the injured child it’s time to calmly talk to the child who hit. The child says to you “he was playing with it long enough, it was my turn” and “he didn’t let me have it so I hit him because I was so mad”.
Now is the parents opportunity to say something like “how would you have felt if your brother hit you for not sharing”. They may say, “well he has” and then you follow up with, “it made you feel bad then didn’t it?” Of course they can relate back to being hit themselves and how it hurt them. Channeling their own past hurt will help them see how hurtful and wrong it was to hurt another person.
Use a Policy of Apologizing and Forgiving
It is all well and good to communicate on your child’s level, have them relate to others by putting themselves in “him or her shoes”, but if they don’t learn to genuinely apologize and forgive, then their heart will never change. When they fail to apologize, grudges and hard feelings build up. They need to be taught this important life skill as part of their process to change bad behaviors and acting out.
Children don’t naturally have the inclination to apologize when they do wrong.
Kids tend to try to minimize or dimiss their responsibility in wrong doing, which is why apologizing does not come naturally. It’s human nature. We don’t come out of the womb with the ability to make our own beds, cook our own food, or brush our own teeth. We also aren’t born with the ability to ask for forgiveness. It is a skill that is taught. It is up to parents to teach their children to ask for forgiveness.
Communicating to your child in a way that they understand and take the message to heart begins by parental example first and foremost. From there it is about teaching the child lessons on their level and affecting their heart. If they only change their behavior to avoid punishment, then the change is likely temporary. Change that happens in the heart makes for permanent change. A soft and consistent approach makes that permanent change possible.
Teaching them to ask for forgiveness is more important than forcing them to apologize.
Teaching them to apologize and that asking for forgiveness for a specific action is far more important than forcing them to apologize when they have no understanding of their offense. This is why the steps 1-7 are so important. They help the child understand how their actions hurt the other person, by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Parents.com explains how we need to teach children to apologize instead of forcing the apology process:3
Experts explain what’s important is not simply saying the words but learning to take responsibility for a mistake. “Children this age may resist apologizing because they believe the mistake wasn’t their fault”….By breaking the apology process into a few steps you can help your child understand how her actions affect others and learn when to make amends.
There are a few additional ways parents can help children learn to apologize above and beyond helping the child recognize how they hurt others and then helping them find empathy for that person they offended by “getting in his or her shoes”. These things include being an example. This means apologizing to your spouse or partner and doing so in a way that your child can emulate, as you are their primary example for how to act in life.
Another aspect of the apology process that parents need to teach their children is to make amends.
They need to find a way to make it up to the person they hurt. For example, if your child breaks another child’s toy rather than telling them they need to buy a new toy to replace the broken one, you help lead them to that conclusion themselves. You can ask your child “what do you think you should do since you broke your friends toy and they really liked that toy?” Teach your child to find ways to become a thinker of how to make amends when they hurt others, as it is important in the forgiveness and apology process.
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