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Published:August 27th, 2013 17:59 EST
How To Get Through To Your Kids

How To Get Through To Your Kids

By Jay Forte

When we were kids, I seem to remember that all my parents had to do was to tell us something and we complied. I wonder if my parents remember it the same way. This however, doesn`t seem to be the way it is nowadays. Everyone I talk to who has kids complains that they are unable to get through to their kids. And if communication is ineffective, how are we able to guide them into living healthy, happy and great lives?

There are two significant issues at play here.

First, technology has indeed changed our communication preferences. Face-to-face communication is lower on the preferred list than email, phone and texts. It is difficult to get through to anyone with a blue tooth in his ear or a steady gaze on a screen. To get through to our kids, we must be able to turn off the technology (for them and for us).

Secondly, we have to think about how we communicate. As our kids age, they need us not to show up with one communication method; we must change to connect with where our kids are in their development " from telling parent, to asking coach, to advising mentor.

Many parents think that all communication, for the entire life of their kids, should be in parent or telling mode. We think we have all the answers and therefore feel compelled to tell our kids what to do. There are indeed times that we should be the telling parent " sharing rules, expectations and information to learn how to live wisely, healthy and safe. But as our kids mature, so should our method of communication.

Critical but frequently absent is the change to questioning " to becoming the asking coach instead of the telling parent. As a certified workplace and life coach, daily I see the power of asking questions. When we ask questions, we engage more, gather more information and can hold others accountable for their actions and responses.

In the teen and young adult years, the more you tell, the less they listen. The less they listen, the more you tell. Vicious circle. Be the one to stop the infinite loop. Asking questions can break the cycle.

Telling shares your perspective; asking solicits theirs. They have the answers and information they and you need " so asking seems a more effective way of pulling them out of technology and into conversation, dialog and accountability. For teenagers and young adults, solutions must be theirs for them to stick. Getting them into conversation is how to establish options solutions and agreements.

Here are some examples of how to move from telling parent to asking coach:

  1. Tell: Don`t you ever talk to me like that again or you`ll be grounded. Rephrase in a power question: Tell me what is going on with you that you think talking like this to me is caring, responsible and respectful? Tell me how you would feel if I spoke to you like this? Then wait for an answer.
  2. Tell: Study harder and get better grades or you can say good-bye to your phone. Rephrase in a power question: Knowing how important it is to get good grades in school, what do you think would be the right way to handle someone who is working way under their potential? What stops you from showing up and choosing to be successful at school? Then wait for the answer.
  3. Tell: Here is a $10 allowance for helping around the house. Rephrase in a power question: What is the value of what you do around the house? How can you increase your value to earn more money? Then wait for the answer.
  4. Tell: You have to go to Harvard, so do whatever it takes to get into that school. Rephrase in a power question: Tell me what you are considering for college. What careers seem a good fit for you and what schools would prepare you well? How have you done your homework on this? Then wait for the answer.

Questions create the opportunity to discuss, examine, consider, brainstorm, solve and communicate. They help parents and kids work collectively on not only solutions but the process to achieve solutions. Learning how to solve is critical and is learned through the questioning process.

The final step is to become the advising mentor. My kids are now all in their 20s; none of them needs parenting. Sometimes they need me as a coach " to ask questions to help them define a perspective or solve a challenge. Mostly what they need from me, besides being a supportive dad, is to be a wise mentor. This is when I can offer some things I know about that they want to know " to accelerate their learning and effectiveness. As parents, we have wisdom to share when asked " we become the trusted advisor and mentor.

As parents we have to choose how to get through to our kids " when to tell, when to ask and when to advise. Bring them into conversation as much as possible. Make it safe and easy to communicate. Hold them accountable. Share what you know. Never, never, never give up on connecting and communicating " even when they appear disinterested. That frequently just means change your methods.

Every generation has to relearn how to connect with the generations that came before; it will happen to our kids as well. And it always includes some form of telling, asking and advising. These are three methods that help us connect and communicate successfully with our growing and changing kids, once we can tear them (and us) away from technology.