Expert tips on how and when to get through to children

Getting through to your kids could be a matter of knowing how to say something and when to say it, according to Mogel in her book offering communication tips. —123rf

I’m not saying Wendy Mogel spied on my family to research her new book. But I’m not sure she didn’t.

Mogel is a clinical psychologist who specialises in childhood. She serves on scientific advisory boards at Parents Magazine and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. Her new book, is Voice Lessons For Parents: What To Say, How To Say It, And When To Listen.

It’s about my family. Maybe it’s about your family too. “My main goal in Voice Lessons is to teach readers how to learn the dialect needed to converse with their daughters and sons at every stage and in every phase of the child’s life,” Mogel writes.

No small task. But I’ve read her previous books (The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, The Blessing Of A B Minus) and interviewed her multiple times, and I knew she would more than deliver.

Mogel separates the lessons by age range (toddlerhood, young boys, young girls, teenage boys, teenage girls) and by topic (talking to young children about sex, death and money; teaming up with your partner or ex; getting the best out of nannies, teachers, coaches).

She encourages readers to “insert mental quotation marks as needed” around the references to gender. Her theories about boys versus girls are rooted in neuroscience, but that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions.

Anyway. Some highlights.

On young boys: “All young boys face the same existential questions,” Mogel writes. “How can I be myself without getting into trouble? Does anyone consider me a hero? What do I contribute to this family that someone else doesn’t already contribute better?”

Keeping that in mind can help adults do two things: understand what’s behind a boy’s behaviours and words, and steer him toward activities that let him be a hero in his own unique way.

Young boys also might take longer than girls to recognise what they’re feeling and why. A parent’s job is to help them.

“For boys (and men), saving face is of utmost importance,” Mogel writes, “so pick a feeling your son needs to understand and insert the concept into a setting that does not involve him.”

During a bedtime story, for example.

“Ask him what he thinks the character feels or how he would feel if he were in that situation. Then repeat what he said, agree, and deepen the landscape of emotions. ‘If that happened to me, I might feel a little excited AND a little worried.’ This way your son doesn’t have to acknowledge his own hurt, fear or anger, but hearing a parent name it models and teaches empathy.”

On young girls: Basically, they have our number.

“In an effort to avoid a fight,” Mogel writes, “mothers will often say things like, ‘Do you really want to wear that to school? Do you think you’ve done this homework thoroughly enough?’ These are passive-agressive rhetorical questions that no girl is going to answer with, ‘Oh, thank you, Mummy! I can’t believe I was going to wear this dress. Why, I’d be so chilly!’

Mum is trying to manoeuvre her daughter into thinking it’s her idea, but it makes the mother seem weak and amounts to a challenge: ‘Yes, I want to wear this and I will wear it!’ “

Better, Mogel writes, to deliver your message in a direct, honest, relaxed manner. (It’s too cold today for that dress. Grab one with long sleeves.) Or let her experience the chill, and decide for herself to store that dress away till summer.

“Natural consequences and other outside forces can do a lot of the work for you,” Mogel writes.

On teenagers: For both girls and boys, Mogel recommends approaching them like someone else’s children.

“I’m going to pretend this young male is a student from a foreign land,” she suggests. “He acts confident but is unsure of the territory. Behold his energy and enthusiasm! But don’t confuse his size and IQ with maturity.”

“I’m going to pretend this lively young girl is not my daughter but my niece from a distant land,” she writes. “Behold her passion! See how her friends admire her. Marvel at her style. Not how quickly it changes. Wait at least one day before weighing in on anything she says.”

It’s an approach, Mogel maintains, that will help you micromanage less, listen more and remember, above all, that this too shall pass. The power of notes: Mogel suggests this for boys, but I have watched it work wonders with my daughter.

“Some boys prefer to write down a big thought, confession or heartfelt sentiment and slip a note under your door rather than say it in person,” she writes. “If you leave little notes every so often on his desk, night table or pillow, you’ve opened up an avenue of communication he hadn’t realized was available and he’ll be more likely to do the same.”

On the bank of goodwill: “Mutual respect between a parent and child depends upon a parent’s deposits in this bank,” Mogel writes.

“What guarantees a high return on investment? Ask your son for more details about tornadoes or drones or professional sports brackets. Display a good-natured tolerance for your daughter’s clothing choices, however flamboyant or strange, as long as they don’t violate the school dress code. Resist making references to how carefully the two of you shopped for her wardrobe. “Remind yourself that respect begets respect.”

It’s kind and loving, but it’s also strategic.

“At every age, children will bring you the worst problems you can imagine and also the most dazzling moments,” Mogel writes. “The more you know what gladdens your child’s heart, the more of those moments you’ll get to see. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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