Deciphering The Speech Of Our Children

Understanding your child is like piecing together a puzzle. It involves listening to what your child is saying, thinking about his underlying message, focusing on his body language…and assembling his complete picture.

All too often, while our child is talking, his words whiz from one of our ears through the other, but we still have not heard what he is trying to express. For example, your seventh grade daughter announces, “I’m not inviting friends over anymore.” Is she trying to say that she no longer has any friends to invite? Or is she telling you that she’s embarrassed that the house is messy and disheveled. Or your ninth grade son says, “There’s nothing wrong with smoking.” Is he trying to assert his power? Be one of the “gang?” Or is he in the mood of being contrary? It’s not enough to merely hear; we must listen, perceive and understand.

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How do we become more perceptive?

For starters, listen with your whole body. You should stop washing the dishes or balancing the checkbook. Focus. Make eye contact. And really listen. You’ll be surprised at what you discover.

While listening, make use of the active listening skills you’ve mastered.

  • Reflect your child’s feelings and message.
  • Repeat the information you’ve heard back to your child to ensure that you’ve understood him correctly. This will reassure the child that you have heard him and understood him or give him the opportunity to clarify his needs in case of error.
  • Throughout the conversation, listen non-judgmentally. All too often, we’re too busy formulating responses instead of focusing on the other person’s words. That turns the conversation into a rebuttal. Be accepting. You will make your home a safe place for open conversation.

Deciphering the Actions

Besides understanding our child’s verbal messages, we also must decode his unspoken messages, sent to us via his actions. Children don’t act out of character without reason. As parents, it is our obligation to try to discover the motive behind our child’s irregular behavior.

For example, your child comes home from school unusually quiet. Is he angry or sad about something that happened in school?

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During mealtime, your child is barking, criticizing and talking with impatience. Is he angry or annoyed, and about what?

Your child is jumpy and wild. He may be excited about an event that has happened or will happen.

Your child is feeling slow and lazy. He may be tired or in need of a break.

Your child is fighting with his siblings. He doesn’t feel noticed, accepted or loved, so he may therefore provoke others.

Your child is hurting others. He may be feeing hurt or jealous.

A child acts out when he is unhappy. There is always a trigger, and it is our responsibility to identify it. There are four mistaken goals of behavior, attention, power, revenge and inadequacy. Usually, a child’s behavior is a reflection of inner emotions. Behaviors are supposed to be red flags, telling us to probe deeper. When a parent assesses a child based entirely on external factors, he often misses the punch line. It’s like a doctor who pronounces a diagnosis after observing his patient’s external symptoms.

When we fine-tune our listening, our observation and our perception, we can attain greater levels of sensitivity and empathy.

Did you wish as a child that your mother would’ve listened better to you?


16 responses

  1. I really like listening with your whole body. These days, with all of the smart phones, don’t you feel like no one listens with their bodies anymore?

    1. Yes, it’s a big problem! It’s hard but definitely rewarding to fully listen to our children and look at them so they understand we are listening!

  2. Communcation with our children is so important. You made many good points. For me the most important thing to work on is to give undivided attention, and to focus on what my children are saying.

    1. That’s a wonderful thing to work on. Your children will feel like important people and it will strengthen your relationships.

  3. This is great advice! I try to always stop what I’m doing and give them my full attention.

    1. That’s amazing Jennifer! It can sometimes be quite challenging.

  4. I agree learning to communicate properly with our kids really will help prevent a lot of other problems with them.

    1. Definitely! I agree with that as well.

  5. This is a really great article. Communication can be misconstrued in so many ways. Even posts we write can sometimes be viewed in a negative way even though it was clearly not our intention.

    I think it’s important to explain as much to our children as possible so that they can really understand what we talk about. I see a lot of parents trying to explain even the smallest things and I think it’s great and avoids confusion and sometimes mixed feelings too.

    Thank you for such a nice article!

    1. I love to explain things to my children; they deserve to know some things too!
      Thanks for your lovely comment!

  6. It’s always fun trying to decipher a toddlers conversation. Most of the time I can understand my baby boy, but there are also times when I have no clue what he is talking about. Thank you for sharing.

    1. It can also be frustrating at times when the toddler gets annoyed that he is not being understood.

  7. Not letting other things distract you while listening is key. We need to give our kids full attention that we want them to give to us.

    1. True! I find it challenging to always stop and listen but I try! I see how it makes such a difference to the child and they feel respected.

  8. I love this article. I couldn’t agree more and yet I never even thought about how important it is to stop what you’re doing and REALLY LISTEN. Not just hear the words but understand them. This was not a strong point of my parents.. in fact once things got really bad for me, I had to literally sit my mother down and say ok-this is how it is-now do something about it. Just so you’re not left wondering, there was an unhappy marriage with constant arguing and as a young teen it affected my focus, grades and I even started dabbling with drugs starting at age 13. Good thing I was wise enough to stop with no parental intervention as there was none anyway.

    1. Wow Anna! Your truly incredible! I’m sorry to hear your life growing up wasn’t that easy and I’m sure you’re an amazing mom now! When we go through something difficult, it makes us stronger people and now that you know how hard it was for you, I’m sure you’ll ‘be there’ for your children!

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