The other day I asked my 6 year old what he wanted for Christmas. He mentioned a video game (which was not a surprise), but then he asked for a cell phone. Not just a cell phone, but a black smart phone with a red cover and several specific apps. He really put some thought into it, and I wondered, “Why is this on his radar?” The reason was simple, it’s me. My cell phone is forever by my side. I use it for work and for home. It has two e-mail accounts attached to it. My Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are all there. It calls itself my Life Companion (no joke, it is right there on the login screen). I use it to entertain the kids when we are stuck at an appointment, and text friends to plan play dates and nights out with my girlfriends. It is a constant presence in my life. Why wouldn’t he want one? So what is a mommy to do? I need my phone to communicate with the world, but this isn’t the message I want to send. Not to mention I am not buying a six year old a cell phone, period. The first thing I did was I turned off all my notifications. This way I would not be tempted to look at my phone unless I had a reason to. Then I took Facebook off of it entirely. For some reason I can resist the temptation to look at what my friends ate for dinner, and what Buzz Feed has to say if I have to go on my laptop to do it. Next I started eating breakfast with the kids and postponed checking my e-mail until after school started. Last I moved the apps he wanted off my phone to his tablet. This way he can access them on his own (within the parameters we set for the tablet of course) without the cell phone being a central point of interest. The result? A happier, more compliant child who doesn’t ask to use my cell phone every 5 minutes. After all, he doesn’t have to compete with it anymore. So he isn’t getting a cell phone for Christmas, but I think I met his request. Sometimes our child’s message is pretty clear, other times we have to listen a little more closely. If we take them time to ask ourselves, “What do they really want?” Often we can be surprised at how meeting their needs are easier than we think. Whether your child is coping an attitude over a candy bar, or asking a for new tech you haven’t even heard of here are a few ways to figure out, “What are they really trying to say?”
- Think about the message. I want a cell phone could really mean, “I want to be more like you.”
- Ask open ended questions. What type of cell phone? What will you use it for? Who else do you know that has one? It doesn’t mean that they will get it. You can establish a family rule, no cell phones until you can drive! But you still want to hear why they are making this request.
- Make eye contact. Turn off the radio or television. Turn away from the computer. Your child is sharing something with you that they need you to hear. They can say it more clearly with less fussing if they know they have your undivided attention, even if just for a minute.
- Use reflection to show them you are listening and to make certain you understand what they are getting at. Reflection is done when you paraphrase what someone has said and repeat it back to them. “So you mean that you like the apps on my phone better than the ones on your tablet. Ok, let’s fix that.”
- Try to reflect the emotion they are showing. We don’t want our emotions to seem to dismissive, “Your to young, no.” But we don’t want to go overboard either, “Are you kidding me? Do you know what they cost? You haven’t shown the responsibility!” Being emotionally even and thoughtful about what they are saying elicits the best response. “Interesting, let’s take a look at that.” Sometimes just being understood is a tremendous relief.
When we listen to the message behind the words we are often able to connect with our children on a much better level. This will lead to happier healthier children and parents too!