A Sneaky Way To Get Them To Listen

Kids, kids, kids — wonderful, fabulous and absolute frikkin’ masters at the parental tune-out. Have you noticed? But WHY do their eyes glaze over and drift off to some faraway place whenever you offer that brilliant nugget of wisdom that would solve their lastest problem? Why dont they GET that you have oodles of hard-earned advice to share? Shouldn’t they be sitting at your feet, eagerly awaiting your next life lesson?

Well, not so much, if they are over 10. It’s a shock, I know, when the adorable little munchkin who has seen you as the smartest person in the world suddenly goes rogue and raises a suspicious eyebrow whenever you open your mouth to speak. It happens.

Not their fault, not your fault. It’s been that way forever. Part of it is that they have to learn how to work things out on their own and part of it is sheer stubbornness. Despite the fact that you do, in fact, have much to teach (and they have much to learn), once they hit those pre-teen years, they resist. Until they enter their twenties they will never again be fully convinced that you know what you’re talking about, regardless of the topic.

But take heart. I have a strategy that you can use to help get your all-important point across. Your message will be delivered quickly and easily and your kids will go away remembering it and quoting it themselves later to friends and siblings alike.

How does it work? The secret lies in keeping it short and sweet. Think for a minute. When some urgent piece of information needs to be communicated right away, what do we do? If you’re out to sea and run into trouble, you send an SOS. Not too long ago we got the word out with a telegram. Today we send text messages and receive urgent public news through bulletins that slide across the bottoms of our T.V. screens.

The thing they all have in common is that they are short and to the point. No long letters or 25 page reports. And that’s why adages, or old sayings, work so well with kids. They cut to the chase, stick in the mind, and get chewed on later. The wisdom, presented metaphorically, sinks in slowly and effectively. Plus, they have an air of authority to them and make you look like you know something your kid doesn’t.

Paul McCartney, famous for his work ethic, talks about how his dad doled out a favorite expression, “Do it now!” when he was growing up. It was later shortened to DIN and McCartney says that little saying was always working in the back of his mind and has stayed with him.

My parents had a few that they relied on to get their point across and I’ve passed them on to my kids, too. They can be surprisingly effective but must be used appropriately and repeated often. So next time you find yourself deep in the trenches, going head to head with an unreceptive child, try something a little different. Give your speech as usual but seal the deal by tacking on an old-time saying at the end. Next time, the adage alone may be sufficient.

There are hundreds to choose from. Here’s just a sampling:

If, for example, you typically try to get help and cooperation along these lines: “You guys need to get in here right now and help out with the dishes! Im sick of being the only one who….” You could substitute: “Many hands make light work.”

Or, if you want to get a professional procrastinator off his behind and on the job you could try, “The early bird catches the worm” instead of, “If you don’t get off that couch right now you are not going to be able to…..”

When junior comes to you proclaiming his innocence and blaming his brother/sister/friend for the fight/problem/whatever, you can listen sympathetically but then hit him with: “It takes two to tango.”

If you’ve got one who is forever making and breaking promises you can enlighten him with “Actions speak louder than words.”

A habitual complainer can be helped out of her rut with, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

For a teenager who doesn’t feel he needs to work too hard looking for summer employment because his best friend’s dad has a hardware store and will “definitely” give him a job try, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

When you’ve got one who’s in the dumps dealing with a tough disappointment try, “Every cloud has a silver lining” or “This too shall pass” or “When one door shuts, another one opens.”

In order to promote hard work and perseverance you can go with, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

If your child is famous for pulling it off at the last minute you might throw out, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” when he tells you he’ll start the 10 page report that’s due Monday on Sunday morning.

I hope you will find a way to work these in to your Mom Talks. They do have a sticky quality to them and work their magic behind the scenes when no one’s watching.

Here are some more gems to contemplate. There’s at least one for every parenting situation you can imagine!

When the going gets tough the tough get going.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

A poor workman always blames his tools.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

A stitch in time saves nine.

Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today.

You cant judge a book by its cover.

Better safe than sorry.

Charity begins at home.

Don’t burn your bridges behind you.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Into each life some rain must fall.

Little strokes fell great oaks.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

There’s a time and place for everything.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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