Sunday, November 20, 2011

Speaking So They'll Hear

The scene is a familiar one: I stand at the kitchen counter, slicing and dicing ingredients for a meal, or cleaning up leftover dishes.  My hands are full and my purpose is intentional.  The kids are watching something on TV in the other room, when I suddenly remember an instruction that needs to be given.
“It’s time to go clean your bedroom before bath time,” I might call out over my shoulder.  Or “Please find all the library books so we can leave soon.” 
But no matter the topic or instruction, the reaction I get is this:
Conditioned by their irresponsive reaction, I’ll probably try shouting louder next time.  I may even look in their direction.  And by the time they hear me, I’ll have called out so often and with such force, that I’ll become angry at their lack of attention.  My voice will be exasperated, and the kids will wonder what went wrong.  They’ll get defensive and argumentative.  Everyone will tumble into despair.  The house will be fraught with moodiness of disastrous proportions.  Time-outs and demands will be enforced.  We’ll all hate each other forever.
End scene.
The drama might be a bit over the top, but the truth is there: I become irritated when my kids don’t listen, and they become resentful of my demanding tone.
There has to be a better way to actually get their attention than to make ourselves into angry, yelling parents.  Because yes, that will eventually get their attention, but goodness, it’s exhausting.
In order to speak so that they’ll actually listen, I have to take a second to step away from my own tasks.  If I’m cleaning out a closet (such a rare occurrence that it seems to require unbroken attention) and need to say something important, I either need to step away in order to make sure my kids are listening, or understand that the conversation will have to wait until I’m done.
Eye contact is also becoming increasingly important when it comes to making sure my children are hearing me.  They’re at an age now that has proven to be highly self-consumed.  Their imaginations are all over the place, and if they’re busy with a game, it’s as if they’ve turned off all outside influences that might hinder their fun.  An instruction-wielding parent definitely falls into that category.
I can try for all the eye contact I want, but if those eyes are trained upon a screen, I might as well be merely pretending to speak.  So listen closely, because this is my secret weapon:
If I have something really important to say, I’ve started switching the TV off first.  It’s purely amazing to watch my children’s eyes come back into focus and see them pay attention to my voice.  They can actually respond to questions and interact willingly – as long as the screen isn’t flashing colors and sound at their lifeless forms.
We don’t allow a ton of television time in our family, but the realization that they truthfully can’t hear me when it’s on has morphed my frustration into understanding.  And understanding has become relief. 
Now, when I need to say something important, there doesn’t need to be constant repeating and raised voices.  There doesn’t need to be despair or doom.  There just needs to be eye contact and an obliterated screen.  When those two ingredients come together, magic happens: my kids listen.

What tricks do you use to make sure your kids can hear you?  Wear a clown suit, perhaps?  Trap them in their carseats for a long, discussion-fueled drive?  Does it work?

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?