How to help your kids listen to you

When an adult wants a child to listen to them, they usually have two kinds of things they want them to hear. Either …

(A) they want the child to do something – turn something off, bring something to them, pick something up from the floor, get their lunchbox, clean their teeth, or,

(B) they want to have a deep and meaningful conversation about something that is really important to their personal  or family values and they want to tell the young person they are concerned or worried about something.  They want to impart certain tips or a viewpoint  – strangers, friendships, smoking, drugs, or relationships.

Feeling heard by a child, whether it is to tell them to do something or to impart deep and meaningful advice, has a lot to do with how you approach them and assist them to manage their attention.

When an adult wants a child to listen because they want them to do something straight away, psychologists call this “compliance”.  When an adult has asked a child to do something and the child has not done what they asked, we call this “noncompliance”.  Noncompliance is acommon complaint of parents or adults caring for children.

For many years now, there has been good psychological research on the best ways to assist your child to comply with your requests.  A lot of the bits that need to change are actually to do with the ways that the child is given the request.  In the literature, this is called a “command”.  If you really want to increase a child’s rate of compliance, it will take some effort on the adult’s part.

  1. Get your child’s attention. I’ve talked before about the complexities involved with all the processes required to allow a child to screen out unimportant things from their attention and respond to important things.  Now in this day and age, you have to compete with a lot of interesting stuff – computers, tablets, phones, television, music or even friends.  However, before you ask a child to do something, you need to make sure that your child is paying attention to you before you tell them what you’d like them to hear.
  • Go to them,
  • Use their name and
  • Establish eye contact.

I’m afraid that yelling at them from the kitchen across the house to wherever they might be watching their favourite DVD or playing their favourite game  will not enhance the likelihood that a child will do what you want them to do.

  1. State what you want clearly – you will need to be sure that you do not use too many words and that you watch the tone of what you say.
  2. Maintain eye contact until the child has started the behaviour.
  3. Be sure to let your child know that you have noticed that they have done what you have asked.

As a child gets older, you still need to be sure that you have their attention when you want them to listen to you.  In a dangerous situation, most adults will have an Adrenalin-fueled tone to their voice that will assist a child to attend, but in day to day family life the adults can help a child to learn to listen by being mindful of what they are competing with when it comes to a child’s attention.

If the child is engaged in something that is really interesting to them, you will have a lot to compete with in order to be attended to and heard.

If you are in a bit of a negative cycle and you feel like you are not being heard, sometimes it’s best to start again and choose your timing wisely.  If it’s a child’s favourite television show, wait until the show has ended or until there is an advertising break and then approach the child.

If your child is playing a game online, you really need to get to know the sort of game they are playing.  A child can put a lot of effort into some games and if they miss a crucial part because an adult wants them to do something right at a hot time in the game, then the likelihood of them listening to you or complying will be low.  When your child approaches you for time on a game, ask them about the game and how long they need to play and help them budget their time around chores and bedtimes.  They may be best to put the game off until say, after dinner, rather than have it likely interrupted around chore o’clock.

If the sort of listening that you would like your child to do is the deep and meaningful kind, then your strategy should be a little different.

Deep and meaningful conversations are best done one-on-one with nothing getting in the way of anyone’s attention – yours or theirs.

With a younger child, it can be handy to share a book together – even more handy if the book is about the subject that you wish to broach.  Then, in discussing the book, you can listen to your child’s take on things and then add any wise advice that you would like to impart.  Other quite shared activities could be constructing toys, colouring-in or some sort of repetitive handicraft.

Sometimes, with a teen, a road trip or a walk can be a good time for a deep and meaningful conversation.  If the topic is a bit of an embarrassing ones, I think many teens feel better talking while you both look ahead at the road instead of having to face you head on.

Paying attention to a child’s attention and helping them to screen out competing stimuli, can really help you be heard.

Of course, if you catch your child attending well to an adult, be sure that you tell them that you liked that way they attended to that person.  Oh and, as always, be careful that you model good listening, too.

Giftedness: A bonus or a burden?

Definitions of giftedness vary, but generally identify that a gifted child has above average ability in one or more areas of human potential (intellectual, creative, social or physical).  Also, there is a sense that this ability is a natural ability as opposed to one that has been trained.  Usually, the gifted are considered to fall in the top 10{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} of ability range for their age.

A review of the research on giftedness discovered that most parents are reasonably accurate when it comes to labeling their child as gifted.  Whilst some people do seem to broadcast that their child is gifted, other parents do not want to make a fuss about their gifted child.

Identifying giftedness as early as possible allows us to support a child to fully develop in their area/s of talent and to watch for some pitfalls that may accompany having great abilities.

More formally, giftedness is usually identified by psychological assessment that will probably involve an intelligence test and an achievement test.  These allow comparison between one child and what is expected of a child of that same age.  Obviously, though, if a child is gifted in a creative or physical domain, an IQ test may not show this, so it’s important that an assessment involve looking at the child progress of development and any of their records as well as the observations of their teachers, coaches and the like.

Gifted does not mean good or better.

Gifted children have an advanced capacity to learn and whether this capacity is met or actualised, will depend on the opportunities they are offered.  In fact, it is not unusual for a gifted child to achieve poor grades at times as some gifted children will purposely dumb things down if they think their capacities will show them in a bad light to their friends or ease any pressure or discontent they feel.  It is also possible for a gifted child to have a learning disability.  A child may have superb potential in one domain of learning, but struggle to achieve in another particular area.

Gifted kids can become bored and frustrated if the work they are offered in school does not stimulate or stretch them.  Sometimes, boredom can lead to behavioural issues, poor learning or study habits, or even a disengagement from school. I have seen children in my practice who have spoken about trying to reconcile some of the gaps between themselves and others.  One thought that because all of her friends found mathematics difficult, that she must have been doing it incorrectly.  So, she started to convert mathematical problems to Roman numerals in her head and then of course this was very difficult.  She started to get things wrong, but she felt more like the others.  In my experience, gifted children can be prone to over thinking things at times.

There has also often been the concern that gifted children will be more often subjected to more bullying.

Research  into bullying and victimisation, however,  has found that there was no difference in the rates of gifted children as bullies or being bullied.  Rates of bullying varied from school to school and it appeared that bullying had more to do with school culture than whether or not the child was gifted.

When it comes to giftedness, it does seem that there may be a link between dysfunctional or unhealthy perfectionism and the goals that parents have for their children.  In one review of the literature, it was found that troubles with perfectionism were more likely associated with parents who had performance goals or wanted their child to meet certain standards in certain areas as opposed to the parents who had an emphasis more on wanting their child to be able to continue to learn.

Education politics often focus on those students who struggle with the curriculum and do not always allocate resources to gifted students.

Parents of gifted children often become highly involved in schools.  Services offered to gifted children vary broadly from school to school.  Some gifted students are home schooled or their parents seek out private home schooling.  However, gifted children don’t necessarily need an expensive education.  They do need a teacher that can respond to them to continue in a way that will extend them in the areas of their high abilities.  Parents of gifted children often report that having a gifted child can be quite exhausting.  Many parents of gifted children work hard to provide a home life that is enriched with additional intellectual stimulation.  Especially in the early years, when a gifted child starts school, the environment at school may be less stimulating than the environment that the switched-on parents have been providing at home.

Gifted children also need adults who will expect that their elevated abilities will not necessarily be across all areas of learning or achievement.  Children who are gifted, like other children, will have asynchronous development. That means that they won’t keep developing at the same rate across all of their human abilities.  Gifted children need to have teachers, parents and schools that can track how they are going and adjust what is offered to keep the child at that “just right” level of stimulation.

Some gifted children will be accelerated at school.  Acceleration is when students move through the curriculum at a faster rate than usual.  This might mean that they skip a grade or start some higher education options earlier.  Many gifted children may have a situation where they do most of their work in the classroom, but may spend one or two subjects (eg maths or IT) with a higher grade level.  There are some who worry that accelerating a child can be harmful because as we all know, a child’s social-emotional development may not match their learning abilities. There is often a concern that putting a gifted children with older students will leave them vulnerable, but researchers tell us that there is no evidence that acceleration has a negative effect on the social-emotional well being of a gifted child.  In fact, gifted students who are accelerated tend to outperform those gifted children who are not.

So, when it comes to supporting children who have significantly higher abilities than others, it is important to:

  • Remember that clever kids are still kids and encourage their children to ask questions and use their imaginations through play
  • Create a home that encouraged self competence, models positiveness and promotes learning over achievement.
  • Seek to develop supportive relationship with school or seek other ways to extend the child at home or in the broader community.
  • Carefully choose a school that will cater for the child’s needs and one that will welcome parents’ input and feedback.
  • Monitor their general happiness levels and be careful not to expect more from them because they can have an intelligent conversation with you does not necessarily mean that you should ask them age-inappropriate advice on how to run the family budget or seek relationship advice. React to children in a developmentally appropriate manner and allow them to make decisions commensurate with their age.

Just because they can read a chapter book earlier than their peers does not meant that they can go without that special shared time with a story or cuddle just before bed.

Overall, it takes a village to bring out the best in children and gifted children are no exception.  We need to be sure that each child receives support that takes into account their abilities as well as their age and that does not assume that their abilities will be equal in all areas or that their ability to cope will match their special abilities.

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Anger Issues: Innies and Outies

I love anger.  You’re probably not supposed to have a favourite feeling because all feelings are important, but I do love anger.  Anger has so many great functions.  It can energise us. If unleashed, our anger can help us run faster, bite harder, and throw, move and break bigger things than we can when we are not so angry.

If emotions are the human dashboard that guides us through our body’s journey through life, when someone’s anger flares, it’s a great warning sign.  Anger is a way our body and brain use to yell at us to pull over and make sure we pay attention to something that is not quite right.

Often, anger is behind us when we finally decide to do something about a problem that has been building or neglected for quite some time.  Anger can be useful to get stuff done.

However, anger can also be dangerous and debilitating.  When anger gets out of control, it can be the emotion behind hurtful and destructive behaviour.  Anger can give kids, and adults, a bad reputation and make others disinclined to want to spend time with them.

An important part of parenting or educating a child is helping them to know how to get the best of their anger – helping a child get the best of the motivating and problem solving aspects of anger without hurting someone, breaking something or making a rash decision.

Sometimes we need to consider is the anger a problem, or is the child’s situation the problem.  Some young people have plenty of legitimate things to be upset and angry about.

Managing anger is one of those Goldilocks kind of things.  It’s important that we get the balance “just right” – Expressing too much anger in the wrong kinds of ways at one end and holding anger in and letting it build on the other end.  When we consider anger, we need to consider the problems that might go with externalising anger (letting it out) as well as internalising anger (holding it in).  So, just like belly buttons,  anger problems in kids and adults are usually of two kinds – “outie” anger issues or “innie” anger issues.

“Outie” anger issues are probably those that usually come to mind when we think of anger problems – yelling, profanity, damage to property, verbal abuse, road rage and physically hurting others.  Typically we help people manage outwardly expressed anger by understanding the things that trigger them and learning to take alternative action to deal with the tension that rises in them – to take a slow breath, take other’s perspectives, think about consequences, take a “time out”, exercise or do some hard physical work and learn to problem solve.  There are also new programs emerging that assist those to manage their outwardly expressed anger by tuning into the part of themselves that is grateful for what they have and to be compassionate towards others.  These processes take time, but do work as long as they are modified for each individual’s age and circumstances.

“Innie” anger or anger that is held in or internalised is also a problem and can have big implications for mental health and interpersonal functioning.  Some will hold their anger in until they reach a point where the smallest of things will set them off.  For those watching from the outside, the reactions seem out of proportion with the trigger. That’s usually because the trigger may have little to do with all of the other problems that have been held in and not expressed or dealt with.  When this kind of anger erupts it can take everyone by surprise.  It can seem confusing and can be very hard for a person to control.

“Innie” anger can also be linked to experiences of shame or self loathing.  A young person may learn to respond to something that makes them angry by appearing cheerful for a range of reasons – they may not want to bother others or stand out, they may be told by people who are important to them not to be angry, they may feel that others won’t like them if they are angry or they may be punished for expressing anger.  Instead, they develop a strategy for dealing with things where the  outside part of them doesn’t match the inside.  They lose touch with their ability to feel and express healthy emotions and this can have substantial mental health consequences.

It’s important that we help young people to know, label and understand emotions in themselves and other and learn how to express them in ways that are healthy.

Properly expressed anger is a fine and powerful thing for everyone to have in their interpersonal armor and coping tool box.

To encourage young people to express their anger in useful and safe ways we need to:

  • Model appropriate anger – Speak up in appropriate ways, let people know when we are upset by things and take necessary, responsible action – join a protest, start a group, write a strongly-worded letter, articulate the problem and ask for what they would like to be done
  • If you are responding to a child’s anger, be sure to help them label the feelings and be clear that you want them to manage the feeling differently rather than to banish the feeling
  • Encourage the safe expression of individual opinion in your household or school
  • If someone hurts someone else with their anger outbursts, be sure to have them make some amends – again for the behaviour and not for the feeling
  • Encourage exercise, loud vocalisations (some, myself included, might call that singing) and asking for help.
  • Develop compassion for others and for ourselves by modelling kindness and recognising others needs and our own needs, too.

Anger can be awesome, ferocious, strong, protective and proud. Without anger we can be vulnerable and taken for granted.  Turned in, anger can fuel shame and sadness.  The key to anger is feeling it, knowing it, showing it in the right kinds or ways and then using it’s powers to get problems fixed.

How long has it been since you gave your anger some attention?