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Health & Parenting

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Listening to Your Kids

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

Listen to yourself first.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is important to consider what you plan to say before you respond to your child. Parents often make harsh statements out of anger or frustration. You may not really mean the angry words, but your child may never forget them. "Thoughtless comments or jokes that seem incidental to you may be hurtful to your child," the AAP states. "Phrases like 'You stupid idiot,' 'That's a dumb question,' or 'Don't bother me' make your child feel worthless and unwanted and may seriously damage his self-esteem." If you constantly criticize or put your child down, he may hesitate to ask you questions or listen to what you have to say.

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.

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