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Talking to Kids About Important Matters

Talking to Kids About Important Matters

There are many important topics that we need to discuss with our kids, especially during this tumultuous year. Have you ever noticed that very soon after you start talking about something important with your kid, you end up in lecture mode? This tendency can be attributed to our “Lecture Lobe.” Most of us have one. It’s a part of our brain devoted exclusively to lecturing kids about being more responsible, eating green stuff, getting a good education, staying away from all things that might “put your eye out,” etc.

For most folks, this part of the brain remains dormant until we become parents or teachers. Then suddenly it activates! Have you ever been amazed by how easily and automatically a good lecture rolls off the tongue?

As Isaac Newton said in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When our lecture lobes swell, our kids’ learning and listening lobes shrink. Indelibly etched in my memory is the little first grader I lectured about his chronic hall-running. “You could slip and get brain damage,” was the theme of my very long speech.

We’ve learned a lot from our own mistakes as well as from those made by others. We’ve learned even more by watching extremely effective parents and educators over the past forty years. We’ve noticed that really successful ones understand the following concept:

The more words we use when kids are misbehaving or acting irresponsibly,
the less effective we become.

Kids test us to see if we will love and accept them regardless of what they might do. Asking questions instead of lecturing can do two powerful, important things. First, they show others that we can and want to understand their viewpoint. Second, they force people to do plenty of thinking.

Questions create lack of closure deep in our subconscious minds. Humans yearn for closure and sort of go nuts when they don’t have it. Even when our kids don’t answer our questions verbally, their subconscious minds can’t resist the urge to give plenty of thought to our questions. Some examples of questions to ask include:

  • What do you think about how you’re doing in school right now?
  • What are your ideas on whether bikes, like your new one, are ever stolen?
  • What are your thoughts on kids experimenting with drugs?
  • How do you think some kids put themselves in danger while chatting on the internet?

Listening to our youngsters’ opinions, even when they’re silly, strange, or downright scary, dramatically increases the odds that they’ll listen when it’s our turn to speak. Let’s think about this. Do children have control over whether they listen to us, even when we don’t give them this control? You bet! Do stubborn kids know this? Yep! Whenever we pretend to have control over things we clearly do not, it erodes their respect for us and it creates a battle they cannot resist.

Here are a few tips to experiment with when talking to your kids about important matters:

  • Have plenty of short discussions rather than a few long ones.
  • Ask open-ended questions that are thoughtful and sincere.
  • Ask permission to share your thoughts.
  • Describe potential consequences using the “Some kids worry about…” routine.
  • Provide a positive expectation.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of trying to force them into a conversation if they refuse to talk.

We all know at least one child, or even an adult, who just has to learn life’s lessons the hard way. Despite all of our valiant efforts to endow them with our wisdom, they choose to take the rocky road to maturity by making plenty of mistakes and experiencing their consequences. Isn’t it interesting that the hardest lessons learned are usually the ones that teach us the very most!

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Thanks for reading!

Dr. Charles Fay