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HOW TO TALK SO YOUR KIDS WILL LISTEN
By Dr. H. Norman Wright
RegalCopyright © 2004 H. Norman Wright
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDiscover Your Child's Uniqueness
It's too bad there isn't a beatitude for parents that says, "Blessed is the flexible parent, for he or she will have the greatest opportunity to communicate with his or her child." Every child is unique. Each one is different. This is the way it should be. It is the way God created us.
When children are born, they come with an inheritance. It comes from the gene pool of each parent. It might not be seen at first, but it gradually unfolds. If you have three children, it's as though you picked up one from Target, one from Nordstrom and one from JCPenney. They're all different, aren't they? Each child thinks differently, acts differently and communicates differently. Read how some parents describe their children:
"My daughter is a real space cadet. Sometimes I wonder what she uses for a brain."
"My son has a big mouth. He's loud and goes on and on."
"I think my daughter is a hermit. I just can't understand why she's so quiet."
"My son can get lost between his bedroom and the kitchen, especially when I ask him to do something."
"My daughter talks first and thinks later."
"My kid is so picky. He'll ask me the time, and I'll say, 'Oh, around four o'clock.' Then he'll say, 'No, I want the exact time.' What a pain."
"My daughter is so absentminded. She seems to be thinking about too many things at the same time."
"My daughter is way too sensitive. She always gets her feelings hurt."
"I wonder if my son has any feelings. He always has to be right, even when it makes his friends dislike him. But he doesn't seem to care."
"My son is only seven. But even now he has a place for everything, and he isn't satisfied unless everything is in its place before he goes to bed at night. Me? I let everything lie where it falls. But does he ever get after me about that!"
"My teenage daughter is a procrastinator. She gets her work done eventually, but her last minute antics disrupt the whole family."
"I try to talk to my son, but he always changes the subject in the middle of the conversation. I sometimes wonder if his brain is stuck in neutral."
Did you notice some of the words used to describe the children-"space cadet," "big mouth," "loud," "hermit," "lost," "talks first and thinks later," "picky," "too sensitive," "procrastinator," "changes the subject"? Do these words sound negative or positive? Are these traits you would want to change in your child, or could you accept them? What if each trait or characteristic is the way God uniquely created your child, and it's your task to understand your child?
Unique Behaviors and Personalities
Children have quirks of behavior and personality that at times irritate their parents. Yet in most cases the problem isn't that children are bad, it's simply that their responses and thought patterns are different from their parents'.
You get frustrated because you can't understand why your child isn't more like you. Trying to change your child's personality to match yours is as pointless and futile as trying to change your child's physical features to make him or her look like you. The key to reducing your frustration over your child's quirks of behavior, and to communicate with him or her, is to understand and accommodate your child's unique personality style.
Every child is predisposed toward certain personality characteristics. These leanings reflect his or her genetic inheritance, birth order and early environment. A child's personality traits direct his or her preferences for responding to life and his or her communication style-much like a child's handedness directs his or her preference for completing manual tasks. For instance, just because a child is right-handed, doesn't mean the child never uses his or her left hand. The child may prefer his or her right hand strongly, rarely using his or her left hand. Or the child may be more ambidextrous and use his or her left hand for several tasks. The more the child practices his or her handedness preference, the more the child relies on it with confidence. Similarly, the more a child responds in line with his or her personality predisposition, the stronger that style becomes in the child.
In Psalm 139:14 (NIV), read King David's words: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful." Christians believe that every person is made in the image of God and is of infinite worth and value. Every person is unique. Yet most parents find it much easier to value the aspects of their children that are similar to their own. I've heard parents remark, "Tommy is just like me, but I'm not sure where Jill came from. She is so different from the rest of us."
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "different"? Are the meanings you associate with "different" primarily positive or negative? If I were to approach you on the street and say, "You sure look different today," would you think I was giving you a compliment and reply, "Well, thank you very much," or would you think that I was being critical?
"Different" suggests a deviation from some kind of standard or norm. It suggests that something is not quite the way it usually is or the way it should be. Many people interpret "different" to mean "unusual, inappropriate, inferior or wrong." If I said, "You sure look like a deviate," you would know that I was being negative and critical.
On the other hand, what do you think of when you hear the word "unique" or "special"? Do you tend to have a more positive response to those terms? Every person is different. Yet often those differences are not understood or valued by others.
Replicated scientific research has shown that infants show significant individual differences from birth. We know that infants are born with unique temperamental characteristics, behavior traits and ways of responding to external stimuli. Some distinguishing characteristics include their ability levels, needs and feelings. Because every infant has a unique way of interacting with his or her environment, every parent must understand and relate to the infant's uniqueness.
Children come with different personalities and different types of intelligence. Are you aware of the eight kinds of intelligence, and the fact that each child is born with a unique distribution of each? Some of these intelligence types may surprise you:
1. Some children have strong emotional intelligence and have a unique ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others and themselves. They're able to handle feelings and empathize.
2. Those who have strong academic intelligence do well in school, for they can sit, listen, learn, absorb and comprehend. Yet it doesn't mean they can apply all this knowledge or use it constructively in life.
3. There is physical intelligence. These children do well at sports, as well as maintain their bodies in a positive way.
4. Some children are gifted with creative intelligence and have a more developed imagination. When the imagination is stimulated, it grows. They often think differently, are more original and create in their own way.
5. Other children have artistic intelligence and are interested in drawing, writing, acting, singing, playing an instrument and so on.
6. Commonsense intelligence reflects children who want the practical rather than the intellectual. They want what is relevant and useful. They want to apply what works.
7. Intuitive intelligence is seen in children who just know things. Information simply comes to them rather than being taught or told. They have a sixth sense and can understand information without having to study all the details.
8. Some children have gifted intelligence. They are good at certain types of intelligence, but not as good at others. It seems that all their eggs end up in one basket. They may need to develop their special skills, as well as get help for the other kinds of intelligence.
In which of these types of intelligence is your child gifted? Remember that two children who are gifted in the same area of intelligence will reflect it differently because of variables such as personality and environment. For example, what if one child is an extrovert and the other child is an introvert?
Most important, if a child focuses only on his or her strengths, the child misses out on other parts of life, which creates imbalance. Our task as parents is not to fall into the trap of encouraging our children's strength alone but to encourage other areas as well.
Children are different in other ways such as speed of learning. For example, it seems that some children possess their type of intelligence from birth. They are born with their one or two areas of giftedness already developed. Other children may be gradual learners, while some children are late bloomers.
Some people call children who fall into one of these three kinds of learning runners, walkers and jumpers:
1. A runner is given a new task and understands it immediately. This child learns quickly, but to stay interested and involved, he or she needs to be challenged.
2. A walker takes longer to learn but responds well to instruction. This child seems to learn a little, gets better and then lets you know he or she is learning. Encouragement does wonders for a walker.
3. A jumper is usually a challenge for parents. This child takes a long time to learn, and you may wonder if he or she is ever going to get it. Yes, this child takes instruction, but he or she doesn't seem to show any signs of learning. You wonder if your jumper is listening. You teach the child again and again, but he or she doesn't seem to get it. Again and again you go over his or her homework, how to feed the dog or how to greet people, but the child keeps forgetting. You wonder, Where is my child's head right now? You wonder if anything is getting through, but then one day it clicks. You had no idea. Unfortunately, what hinders a jumper from learning is the parent or teacher who gives up on the child.
Some children are runners in one area and jumpers in another area. And in the area where the child is a jumper, he or she may be uncooperative and resistant, but that doesn't mean the child is low in this area of intelligence. It could be the area in which the child has his or her greatest strength. In addition, just because the child is a runner in one area, doesn't mean he or she will excel in that area. The easiest path does not always correlate with the area of greatest strength.
If your first child is a runner and your second child is a jumper, your challenge is not to compare the two children but to discover each child's uniqueness, encourage each child's growth and reinforce that growth. Your communication with each child will need to be adapted. Remember that it is easy to be frustrated with a jumper and resort to critical and negative comments.
Children's Communication Needs
One of the most important aspects of communicating is knowing your child or teen. Your effectiveness in communicating will be in direct proportion to the extent that you know your child.
Let's consider some children who are different or unique in contrast to one another. Remember, you will need to talk differently to each child in order to connect. Within each type described, all children will differ.
Karen-the Outgoing, Bubbly Child
Even at 10 years of age, Karen is an outgoing, bubbly child. She knows a lot of children at school and in her neighborhood, and she wouldn't think of doing something without getting some of her friends involved. Her parents often say, "Why don't you just sit home and play by yourself for a while?" But being alone doesn't sound like much fun to Karen. Whenever her parents require her to be quiet and reflective and to work by herself, Karen tends to procrastinate. She gets her stimulation from being involved with people and doing things.
Karen is like a solar panel. When she has to be alone, she feels like she is under a heavy cloud cover. A solar panel needs to be in the sun to get its energy; therefore, Karen needs to be around people. Sometimes she gets so recharged that it's hard for her to slow down.
People usually know what Karen is thinking because she often talks to herself out loud. Her parents frequently say, "Karen, who are you talking to? Why don't you be quiet for a change? Give our ears a rest!" Even at school she is one of the first children to raise her hand when the teacher asks a question. She may not know the answer at first, but in the process of talking about it, the answer often comes to her mind.
There's something else about Karen: She seems to be secure and self-confident. She's gregarious and outgoing, but she won't believe she's done a good job unless she hears it from someone else. She has a high need for compliments and affirmation (that's important to remember). Karen may ask you again and again what you think of a task she's done if she doesn't hear it from you. Karen wants you to notice and comment.
Does Karen sound like anyone you know? Perhaps you're like this, or you may be the exact opposite. Let's review the characteristics of Karen and learn the best ways to communicate with her:
Karen tends to talk first and think later. She doesn't know what to say until she hears herself saying it. She needs the freedom to formulate her thoughts out loud, although there will be times when you think, Can't she ever be quiet?
Karen tends to speak louder and faster; she is more animated. She brainstorms out loud for the whole world to hear whether others are listening or not. Remember, her ideas are just her brainstorming. It doesn't mean this is what she is going to do. Don't ever react. Just say, "Are you brainstorming out loud again?" and "Tell me more."
Karen knows a lot of people and believes most of them are her "close friends." She'll want a party for 30 of her close friends. Help her to select her truly close friends. Limits are all right.
Excerpted from HOW TO TALK SO YOUR KIDS WILL LISTEN by Dr. H. Norman Wright Copyright © 2004 by H. Norman Wright. Excerpted by permission.
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