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Do You Talk TO Your Child or AT Your Child?

August 10, 2015|Posted in: Happy, Healthy, Smart Kids!

Do you talk TO your kids or AT them?

Do you talk TO your kids or AT them?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear a child talking to their parents and instead of listening to what their child is saying, they bark out orders.  The child asks “Dad, what is this?” and  dad snaps back, “That’s not yours!  Don’t touch that!” That is a prime example of talking at the child rather than to the child.  It would be perfectly acceptable to tell the child the object was something they weren’t allowed to touch, but a better way to respond would be, “That is a special calculator daddy uses at work.  It’s pretty cool isn’t it?  But, it is expensive and belongs to my company so please don’t touch it.”  In the second instance the child knows his parent heard what he said, acknowledged his interest in the object and instructed him not to touch it.  The child feels respected and is more likely to show respect in return.

Something else that really bothers me to hear a child in public saying, “Mom?”  “Mom?”  “Mom?”  “Mom?”  as mom goes obliviously about her business as if she cannot hear them at all.  I have to fight hard to resist the urge to go up to her, tap her on the shoulder, point to the child standing right next to her and say, “Your child is talking to you!!”   A week or two ago I was in the grocery store and they passed the produce section, I heard a little boy ask, “Mom, do bananas grow around here?”  I was impressed with his inquisitiveness and his interest in learning new things.  I heard him ask the question three times before they had walked away far enough that I couldn’t hear them anymore. I never did hear his mother answer him.  I realize that sometimes parents get distracted or are feeling stressed and that’s okay, as long as it is the exception rather than the rule.  I like to think that that mom gave her boy an answer just as I walked out of ear shot and that they had an informative and educational conversation about bananas.  I believe it’s very important for parents to talk to their children.

Showing your child compassion and respect is an important part of talking to them.  Think about how they will feel about the things you say to them.  Take care to make sure they understand both your words and the meaning you are trying to convey.  If you know they won’t like what you need to say to them, perhaps something like “clean your room” try to find a way to say it that might soften the blow.  You can tell them about something enjoyable they will be able to do after they clean their room or remind them how good it feels when their room is clean and they can find all of their toys and belongings.

A perfect example of talking at your child is when you give them an answer or instructions and then you don’t follow through.  If a child repeatedly asks for a candy bar at the checkout counter and you ignore them the first few times, then say “no” once or twice and then buy them a candy bar your child learns that the things you say don’t mean anything.  If you give your child instructions and then don’t follow through and make sure they do what you asked them to that also tells them your words don’t carry important meaning.

If your child is excited to show you or tell you something, don’t offer them a distracted “uh huh” without even looking at them or listening to them.  Take the time to be compassionate, validate their feelings and give a kind and sincere response.  Show an interest in the things they are interested in, talk to them about those things and teach them about the world around them.  Watch for teaching opportunities, point out interesting things and tell them about things.  Talk to them about your plans and the things you’re doing, giving them age appropriate information to help them learn about life and how things work.

Talk to children about their own, yours and others’ feelings,  actions and behaviors.  Explain what is appropriate and why.  Discuss what kinds of things bring about positive results.  Ask them questions and let them tell you about their thoughts, opinions and emotions.  Listen to the things they say and try to understand where they are coming from.  Talk to them about things like integrity, compassion, understanding, hard work, and self esteem.

You hear the saying, “I’m your parent, not your friend!”  I’ve never subscribed to that style of parenting.  After all, what kind of a friend lets you do things that are wrong, or unhealthy or dangerous, etc. without speaking up and explaining or reminding you of the truth.  Someone who would do that isn’t much of a friend in my book.  My children, although they are now grown, have always been my best friends and we’ve always talked about anything and everything as we learn about and enjoy life together!

How to Talk TO Your Children

  • Listen to them.
  • Respond when they talk to you.
  • Show them compassion.
  • Show them respect.
  • Encourage them.
  • Explain things to them.
  • Share interests with them.
  • Acknowledge their emotions.
  • Follow through with what you say to them.
  • Tell them about life and teach them things.
  • Enjoy life with them and love them!!





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  1. Stephanie
    August 10, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    Thanks for the tips- I always try to be aware and answer my little guy respectfully even though he’s a child. It teaches them to talk to us respectfully as well. Though, sometimes he does just say, “mom mom mom” for no reason lol

    • LoriGraceH
      August 11, 2015

      Leave a Reply

      Stephanie, it’s true that sometimes kids do it just to be a pest! Silly kiddos! But talking TO them about being a pest is the best way to fix that! Your little guy is blessed to have you for his mom.

  2. Life Breath Present
    August 11, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    There are definitely good tips here in speaking to a child. I know I sometimes to at Baby Boy, rather than to him. This doesn’t always happen the first or second time he’s saying or doing something though. It also happens when he’s intentionally not listening or otherwise misbehaving, despite repeatedly being talked to. In other words, I’m ok that, at times, I talk at him and not always to him. I think there’s always a working balance to achieve when raising children. 🙂

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