Simple things matter. Young children want their parent’s attention. This is why good behavior, appropriately praised, tends to be repeated – the child knows that the parent will take the time to tell the child that they are pleased. Sometimes, children go to extremes of bad behavior (for example, shouting or tantrums) in an attempt to get their parents to pay attention.
Every day, your child needs your undivided attention. This might be for as brief a period as five minutes – but it has to be time totally devoted to them. Reading the newspaper and half-heartedly listening to your child doesn’t count! You have to show that you are concentrating just on them. Answer their questions or become completely absorbed by what they are doing or telling you. You just have to be fully engaging with them. One obvious opportunity is at the end of the school day, when you ask how they got on – and really try to understand the importance of what they have to say.
Don’t let your child think they’re being interrogated, or they will try to end the conversation as soon as possible. Children often don’t like to be asked direct questions. Talking around the subject can be a better way of helping them to open up. You can sometimes get them to start speaking with a simple comment, such as “I think you’ve had a really busy day today!” or “You looked really happy when you heard Gran was coming to stay” or “I’ll be glad when it’s the weekend – I love it when the family is all together”. Talking about feelings means the child is very likely to respond. They know they are the only ones who can say how they feel – so there can’t be a “wrong” reply.
Even speaking on the phone, if you can’t be with them, is a chance to make your child feel valued and respected. It is essential that there aren’t any distractions. Don’t call them when you’re sitting in front of the TV or computer. Or driving. You have to concentrate harder on a phone call for it to be meaningful to a child. You have to make up for the fact that they can’t see you smiling at them, or that you’re nodding to encourage them. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes if you can – try to picture their face as they speak to you.
When a child realises that every day without fail, you will find the time to talk to them about what really matters to them, their unwanted, challenging behavior will start to peter out. You’ll understand them a bit better – and the whole house will be more harmonious as a result.