Kids Not Communicating: Are you speaking their language?

While I was kicking the soccer ball with a nine-year-old boy this week, it struck me that family conversations like The Family Meeting really need to be conducted outside in the fresh air. Who likes to be cooped up around the dinner table talking about what needs improving? I actually like the dinner table, ’cause it provides structure for conversations and easy opportunities for life lessons, not to mention the delicious food. But let’s just for a moment, consider that you might be willing to interact with your kids, teach them new skills and get close to their hearts with a bit of outdoor movement.

For many years, I have been working with families in their homes, teaching brain-based parenting skills. These families are kind, involved and caring. Often they have a child with a brain uniqueness such as ADHD. But increasingly, they are families just like yours where parents simply feel overwhelmed, children won’t do as they are told or home organization needs a bit of a touch up. Having earned my master’s degree in physical education longer ago than I care to admit, it has always struck me that when we play with our children they communicate better, feel more attached and even open up more.

So I’ve been thinking lately, “Are we speaking the child’s language or do we need to change things up?

What’s New? The past few years, I’ve been walking into homes with hoola-hoops, exercise balls and SPARKPE equipment, more than the traditional therapy fare. When we introduce families to the concept that we need to SEE IT, SAY IT, WRITE IT, PLAY IT and BUILD IT to LEARN IT, most families are game.

Where to start? Well you likely have sports equipment, lawn chairs, a chess set, a few games and other cool stuff in your home calling out to be used. You could make a portable family activities bag. I have a huge duffel bag I tote on wheels that has all sorts of goodies for engagement.

Inside are:

  • 3 marker boards
  • 10 expo markers
  • A set of base ten math blocks (kids love these for math, building or communicating)
  • 6 tennis balls
  • 6 polyspots
  • 3 cones
  • 1 dodge ball
  • 1 soccer ball
  • 1 deck of cards
  • White paper, graph paper, pens, stickers, glue, tape, scissors and more

What to do?

Got something on your mind? Want to know about your child’s day? Want to help your children practice taking turns and sharing? Family activities open the opportunity for exploration and learning.

A few fast ideas:

1. Kick the soccer ball back and forth, stand rather close together at first so that even beginners experience the feeling of accomplishment.

Now make a game out of it.

  • Parent: “Do you want to play the What’s the right thing to do game?”
  • Child: “No, I just want to play.”
  • Parent: “That’s right, we’ll play. I’ll name a situation when I kick the ball, then you can give me a good idea when you kick the ball. Let’s see.” “What’s the right thing to do when your classmate talks to you when you’re both supposed to be paying attention to the teacher?”
  • Child: “I just ignore him.”
  • Parent: “Right, good idea. What can you actually say?”
  • Child: “I can say, be quiet we’ll get in trouble.”

Change up the questions, give your child the opportunity to ask the questions when he or she gets familiar with the game.

You can have conversations about anything:

  • What family contributions (tasks) can the kids make in our home?
  • What can we do when Johnny takes our toys in the sandbox?
  • What do we do with our bodies when mom says, No!
  • What are three nice things we can do instead of rolling our eyes at our sister.
  • What are three things we can do as a family this weekend?

2. Bounce the tennis ball. There is nothing like rhythm to get the brain engaged. Alternate choosing a new rhythm to bounce the tennis ball to. I always have one ball for each person, bouncing the ball on your own is easier that bouncing it to another person.

3. Pass the talking ball. Are your kids all talking at one time? Identify one ball, stuffed animal or bean bag as the “talking ball.” When you sit or stand to talk as a family be it outside your car, at the kitchen table or in the store, if things get heated or muddled-up have one person hold the ball and only that person speaks everyone else listens.

4. Use many different modalities, if your kids generate a good idea while playing ball or chess, ask them to write it on the marker board to teach other family members later.

5. Play 15-30 minutes at a time. Honestly, a good solid exploration can take place in as little as three minutes.

If this is new to you you may be skeptical or thinks it’s silly. But when you see how the kids connect with you, talk with more ease and use their creativity in making new games, you’ll appreciate the magic of moving while talking. There is no one way to move and talk, but there is ample evidence that movement enhances brain function, improves concentration, decreases impulsivity and engages the brain. For the scientists among you, consider taking a peek at some of the following books:

So get moving before you start talking. Let us know what your family comes up with. We’re interested.

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This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method”.  Used in practice for a number of years, The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

 

 

About the Author

Lynne Kenney, Psy.D., is a Harvard trained psychologist, a mother of two, an international educator, and pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ. Since 1985, Dr. Kenney has worked as an educator in community service from the inner cities of Los Angeles to national organizations such as The Neurological Health Foundation, Understood.org, HandsOn Phoenix, and Points of Light (Generation On). Dr. Kenney’s works include the Social-Emotional Literacy program Bloom Your Room™; Musical Thinking; Bloom: 50 things to say, think and do with anxious, angry and over-the-top-kids and 70 Play Activities For Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning and Behavior. Learn more at www.lynnekenney.com. Lynne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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