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Listening to Your Kids

Listening to your kids is a skill many parents may not have, but can easily acquire.

Don't lecture.

When you do have the floor, "lecturing is not a good way to get your child to listen," Saltz says. Instead, shoot for "engaging talk and talk that asks what they think and fosters their own thinking process and autonomy," she says. For example, "Ask your children, 'What do you think about drugs, alcohol, sex, or the way the teacher handled a particular situation?,' and that way you can begin a discussion where there will be give-and-take and they will also be more likely to listen to your thoughts," Saltz says.

"Ask teens questions and let them draw their own conclusions -- such as, 'What are the bad things about taking drugs?' -- as opposed to saying, 'These are the bad things about taking drugs,'" Kopta adds. "This all goes back to a teen's desire for independence."

Be around -- a lot.

"Everybody wants there to be a good setting and time to have an important talk with their children, but kids operate on their own timetable, so the most important thing is making the time to be around," Saltz tells WebMD. "You want opportunities that don't feel too high-pressured, like 'now we are going to have a talk.'"

If you are broaching an uncomfortable topic like drugs or sex, face-to-face conversations may make things more difficult. Instead, try talking in a car where your child can look at the back of your head or during a walk when you are side-to-side.

Give your child space.

When your child begins answering you with one syllable answers, take a step back, Saltz says. "Ask them what they are feeling, which will hopefully help them reflect on why they are giving one syllable answers," she says. Then say, "I'd like to talk about it, but if you feel you cannot at this moment, we can regroup in a couple of hours or tomorrow."

Inspire your child.

"So often parents say 'don't get pregnant, don't get a sexually transmitted disease, and don't do drugs,' and those are three depressing conversations," points out Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a New York-based family and relationship counselor and host of The Learning Channel's Sholom in the Home.

"What inspiration would any kids take from those conversations?," asks Boteach, author of several books, including the forthcoming Sholom in the Home. "Instead, try to have inspiring conversations that give children a sense of what is important," says this father of eight. "When your kids come home, ask them what happened in school and have a story for them."

Don't yell.

"Be stern, but if you yell at kids that shows you are out-of-control and you create a non-peaceful environment," Boteach says. "There has to be a calm environment at home." Remember, that children thrive in stability. "Talk to your kids, give them strict rules, explain them, and punish children when necessary, but don't lose control and yell," he advises.

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