Parents: Speak Less, Listen More

speak less, listen more, parents, child, listen, relationships, whisperWhen it comes to parenting, we may think that “more is more,” but what I’m finding is that when we are verbose in our directions and daily expressions, we may actually be overwhelming our children.

Sounds crazy, right? How could words, which are invisible, be overwhelming? I think it’s time to go back to the basics of “less is more” and use our own behaviors and non-verbal gestures to communicate with our children on a more genuine and simple level.

Limit Your Sentences to 2-3 at One Time

And while you’re at it, limit your sentences to four to six words. How many times have you asked your child to go upstairs, take a shower, brush their teeth and get into bed? For younger parents, how many times have you asked your child to ‘get ready for bed’?

When you think about that in a number of steps, it’s actually: stop what you are doing, walk to your bedroom, remove your clothing, go into your drawer, find your PJs, put on your PJs, go into the bathroom, find your toothbrush, find the toothpaste, place the toothpaste on the toothbrush, turn on the water, brush your teeth and then return to your bedroom. There are 13 steps to getting ready to bed.

So if that also includes choosing clothes for tomorrow, we’re adding: think about what you want to wear for tomorrow, find out the weather (by consulting with Alexa or your parents), open your drawer or closet, choose a shirt, choose pants, choose socks and choose shoes. OMG. That’s overwhelming!

When giving your children instructions, provide two at one time and then stop. Offer a high five, and then provide the next two. When we give our children too many instructions, they will either tune us out (which will infuriate us) or forget them.

Add in ADHD or a sensory processing disorder, and now you have an angry or anxious child who finds life to be stressful and just not do-able. Morning and bedtime routines are then avoided or prolonged, which makes us tense or hating the morning or bedtime routine more than our children do – and there goes the positive morale out the window.

Sympathize and Validate

When our children come to us with a challenge or problem – whether it be a lost sneaker or a conflict with a peer – instead of telling them what we should do, offer validation that this is frustrating, sad, maddening, upsetting or whatever the emotion your child is conveying to you in that moment.

Instead of offering solutions and ways to fix the problem right away, ask questions about what can be done. For example, “Hmmm, this is frustrating. Where could that sneaker be? Let’s go look together.” And then when you are looking for that sneaker, let there be little verbiage expressed.

In other words, avoid, “Let’s go look under the couch where you ate your snacks in front of the TV and made a whole bunch of crumbs,” or “Well, if you put those sneakers away right away, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Look with your eyes and not your mouth. Let your child guide the search. When your child ultimately finds his lost sneaker, smile and move on.

Listen, Really Listen

When you ask your child about her day, listen – really listen – to what she is telling you. Watch her body language or listen to her choice of words to gain information. And when you ask, make sure you’re not just asking the question for the sake of being able to say to yourself, “I asked the question.” Stop what you are doing, and look at your child.

As a mom of three and a business owner, I am always multi-tasking. It’s the only way I survive. I am learning to stop what I am doing so that my kids are not only hearing the words, but watching my body language to see and know that I am interested. I also hear them better – meaning I really process what my kids are saying when I use all of my senses to watch them and listen to the words while gauging the emotions they are conveying to me – even when their words are just “fine” or “good.”

Life is busy, and I understand there are multiple demands and thoughts to process, and we may think that they aren’t noticing. But the truth is that they are noticing. They know when you are distracted or not being genuine. They know.

I know this sounds like another thing to do as a parent, but I’m actually freeing you from the need to speak – a lot. I am giving you permission to offer yourself silence while you are listening, and engaging your child with your entire being.

In time, you will notice that your child will want to speak with you because she knows that she has your undivided attention, and your interactions will be genuine and sincere – pleasant even. You may find that you both enjoy the time, even if it is only a few minutes each day.

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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders in Parsippany NJ. Dr. Liz was trained at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and Teaneck, where she earned her BA in Psychology, MA and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

At present, she is a contributor to a number of popular press magazines, radio and blogs, where she is able to provide real-world, pragmatic solutions to complex problems. To learn more, visit or email at [email protected].

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