How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen; and Listen When Your Kids Talk!

The best method to get our kids attention is let them have our attention.

Does that sound a little counter intuitive?

This story was taken from the memoirs of two teachers who were instrumental in influencing change by enacting simple, small techniques with their teaching practices. In a rural town a certain grade of children was disruptive and disrespectful, and it wasn’t just one or two kids, it was the entire class. Their actions soon created a hostile environment not conducive to learning.

Many of us have experienced the rough days when children are learning about life, others, and how to best interact with the world around them. Sometimes we are successful in navigating these moments and sometimes we need help.

These two teachers were experiencing the full force this struggle daily and banded together forming a plan to help these children make better choices in how they interacted with others. The principles they taught and used are explained in their own words below and include skills that bring love, connection, trust, dedication, self-belief, self-trust and trust in others, and even a desire to build parent and child relationships that last a lifetime; they also address ways to disperse fears of not being good enough, and fears of failure and loss.


“After two long years of teaching junior high, I was ready for retirement. When I had entered the teaching profession, I had expected the students to behave, to want to learn, and show respect. Oh, they did as they were asked if I coaxed, bribed, or threatened them. And not many were late if I waited to call roll a few minutes after the second bell rang; but, respect, they did not even know what the word meant!

Taking the toll on my desire to teach were numerous obstacles: students, apathetic attitudes, administrative political ploys, the parental dissatisfaction with the education system, the lack of cooperation, the high levels of competitiveness among faculty members, and the disrespect for fellow human beings.

Time and time again I had been told, “Those students are worthless and disrespectful children.” The evidences from my classroom, the hallways, and comments by other adults convinced me this statement was true. Veteran teachers freely gave their condolences, “There is nothing you can do about it, Janis. Just grin and bear it. It’s part of your job.”

For two seemingly endless years I followed the advice of the veterans, however, I was not happy, and as far as I could tell, neither were the students. The students were nothing more to me than objects in a room of furniture. My ideal classroom, a pleasant place for learning, had become a war zone. Daily, students engaged in confrontations, unpreparedness, flagrant ignoring of classroom rules, name calling and fighting. The more I incorporated the discipline philosophies of experts and veterans the deeper I entrenched myself into the battle against the misbehaving students. Writing names on the board only produced cantankerous silence. The suggested rewarding for good behavior progressively cost me more money as the students became manipulative with demands for more costly rewards. In addition to the war that had developed in my classroom, I was constantly held responsible for any and all of the inappropriate behavior of students in the hallways, gym, and cafeteria. I was personalizing and internalizing every confrontation, and I was unable to leave the battles at school.

My insides churned as I recognized I had only one solution, to stop teaching. Encouragement from my family and friends persuaded me to stay until Christmas. If things were not better by then I would quit. I know in order for me to enter my classroom the following year I needed some sort of ammunition, some kind of help, or power to engage in the classroom battles. I promised myself to enter this war with more strategies and tactics than all of the students combined. These battles would be fought in the trenches. I was determined that the students would not win. If I lost, so would the students.”

Does that sound familiar in any way? Raising kids can be like a war zone. What happened to all of those movies in which the kids obeyed, and they grew up to be very strong and motivated individuals?

There are a few skills to use that will change the war zone to the best time of our lives. Sound simple? Yes, it can be.

We generally choose one of several parenting styles with our children: And just the name of the style gives a clue on how to parent. Can you spot your style?

Did you figure out what style you are? Are you a mixture of all of them depending on the day? I love the quote from Gandhi when he stated that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. So, this type of parenting starts with us. To help us all create a more nurturing authoritative environment for our children I have outlined two steps below. Review them and makes some notes, goals and plans according to your inspiration.

  1. First, we need to understand our children before we can parent them well. What are their needs?

We all have basic human needs and if those needs are met, we can function at a much better level. We can feel safe, secure, and believe in ourselves. These basic needs don’t necessarily have to be fulfilled by another person because children need to learn do that themselves. We as parents can help fulfil these needs while also teaching them to do that for themselves.

  1. Respect – Showing them respect is the best way to teach them to respect others. Listen to what they say. That doesn’t mean we have to do everything they say, just listen so they feel they are worth listening too.
  2. Appreciation- The simple gesture of saying thank you greatly impacts all ages. This is an easy need to fulfill. We as parents know what it is like to be appreciated. So, set the example by noticing and finding the good that they do and let them know you care, and you appreciate what they do.
  3. Trust – Showing trust is the same as respect – give it and you can earn it. The biggest way to increase trust is to avoid being critical, but if there is a concern, discuss it and work together for solutions. Trust means confidence. If you trust someone you have confidence in them. It can be you trust that they will do their best, or that they will tell the truth. There are many levels of trust. In a relationship when there is trust, offense is not present. It is easier to understand each other.
  4. Feeling safe – A person needs to feel safe and not tormented in order for them to open up. Can they tell you something without causing an outburst on your part? You may not like what they say yet it is still important to keep trying to understand. The more they feel understood the easier it is for them to take a “NO” answer.
  5. Validation- To know and feel what we contribute is valued and really makes an impact. The best way to make a person feel valued is to listen to what they have to say.
  6. Encouragement– When we are told we can’t achieve our dreams; we can easily let our dreams die. When we give encouragement, even if the idea is not what you would recommend, it can be the simple jester that lets our children thrive. They can easily tell if you care.

If their needs are fulfilled they are a lot happier and a lot less rebellious.

  1. Take a few minutes to evaluate children’s abilities.

Some people have the gift to stuff a ball in a basket and make lots of money doing it. Some have the gift of making friends and they are surround with people who care. Here is a great place to pause and think, then write down your child’s abilities. Remember if we judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, we may not have very many fish. This is a good place to stop and ask questions to see what your child’s needs and abilities are:

  1. What do I see my child doing when they don’t have to do anything?
  2. What seems to make them happy?
  3. What are they good at? (sometimes we love doing something but not good at it yet)
  4. What do they dream about becoming?
  5. What do others complement them about the most?

Take some time to get to know your child and then act accordingly. You will see a huge difference in their ability to thrive. And a huge increase in your understanding of them and yourself. It will be very rewarding. It will also build a lifetime of memories.

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