Updated: Feb 5
Perhaps you're familiar with this scenario. You pick up your child(ren) from school and race home. You've worked all day and you have a long list of household items that need to be completed once you get home. You also know that you are going to have to leave again soon to get your child(ren) to after-school/evening activities. You shout a "to do" list at the kids while hurriedly changing clothes and trying to figure out what's for dinner. The kids likely either don't respond or shout back some vague acknowledgment, but take no action on the list.
Had we taken a second, though, and looked at them or listened to their tone, we might have been able to communicate in a way that actually helped us reach our goals.
I'm guilty of this, too. My list is much longer than I'll ever have time to complete and everyone has a role to play. Some days it's truly exhausting to really pay attention to everyone. But my kids know when I don't...and I can feel it in our relationship when I'm not tuning in.
Let's look at a specific scenario. My Son 2 is 13 years old right now and eating everything in sight. While I'll put off eating to get something done, that's not how he's wired right now. When we get home from school he has about 1.5 hours until we have to leave again for his Brazilian Ju-Jitsu practice. He still needs to grab a snack, take care of his lunchbox, do homework, empty the dishwasher, take out the recycling, be sure his gi is ready to go, and walk his dog. Of course, he would say that an after-school snack is the most important thing to do! So I holler the list and he gives a vague "yes, ma'am" - knowing I'm heading out of the room for a bit. He finds a snack and settles down to leisurely watch his phone while eating. I come back, find nothing done, and want to blow a gasket.
We’re all familiar with this. What’s really happening with our kids?
They’ve had people (adults) talking AT them all day long.
Brainwork (i.e., school) is TIRING!
They are growing and legit need food.
They may not have used the bathroom all day and really need to go.
They know the home stuff will get done. Either they have it in the back of their mind and plan to take care of it, or they know we will yell again later to get it done, or we’ll do it ourselves. Regardless, their priority is checking out and resting for a few minutes.
Reality check. We need to be the adult. And I’m talking to myself too!
In this scenario, each of us was totally focused on our own needs. We can demonstrate putting others’ needs first (Philippians 2:3) by paying attention to our kids.
Really look at them:
Phone in hand? ✅
Earbuds in? ✅
Far-away tone when they answer? ✅
All of these are nonverbal communication cues telling us that they need to check out for a bit.
I know that we want the chores done. And we worked all day and want a break too. But, again, we’re the adults.
If this routine repeats itself in your home, consider a few things:
Do those chores have to be done right after school? Can they be done later in the evening? Can any of them wait until a day with no after-school activities ... or the weekend?
Does that person have to do that chore? As my oldest began his first job during his senior year a few months ago, I realized that some of his chores needed to be re-allocated. Is this fun? No. Does this mean that Son 2 and I need to pick up some of the slack? Yes. But that’s life, too.
How much time is reasonable to give your child to unwind? My kids need a solid 15-20 minutes to do their own thing. Driving home with us in the car is NOT relaxing for them, even if they are on their phone (which I don’t encourage but that’s a post for another day).
By paying attention to our kids’ nonverbal behavior, we can help them learn to
self-regulate (a form of self-control, a fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22)
accomplish both our goals and their goals
demonstrate respect for others' needs
and begin developing healthy family communication patterns
The problem is, we don't often take the time to do that. I encourage you to take some time to slow down and really look at what your child is saying with his/her nonverbals in the coming days. You'll learn a lot about why he/she isn't really paying attention. Then you can make purposeful communication choices to reach your goals and their goals. In doing so, you'll likely lower stress AND improve your relationship. That's a pretty big win.
PS If you found this article helpful, I'd be honored if you would share it with your friends.
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