This is second in a three-part series of discipline, communication, and development for 9-12 year olds so we can all be more effective parents! The first part to this series can be found here and got a warm reception from readers as it tackled discipline, responsibility, protection, sports, emotional intelligence, and more.
One thing I love about this age is that I think we have a chance to make a big impact on how we resolve conflict and communicate with one another. The home is really the first and most major place in which children learn this!
So, the first thing to be aware of is what is your communication style? I find many adults have a really hard time helping 9-12 year olds with conflict and communication within the family because they themselves were never taught communication skills or conflict resolution? So, I think we need to think of things such as:
- How do we deal with things and other people when things are not flowing smoothly? How do we react? What do we say?
- Do we accommodate conflict by being a people pleaser and backing down on our boundary? Do we avoid conflict and run away? Do we become competitive and try to win over why we are right?
- How good are we a collaborating during times of conflict?
- Are we direct? Can we say and use “I ” statements directly when we communicate – “I am frustrated!” “I am angry!” But……
- What do we do with those feelings then, though? Take it out on everyone around us? Yell, scream, shut people out, cry?
- Do we put people down when we are frustrated or irritated at the situation? What do we perceive as “disrespect”, why, and what do we do about it?
- Do we use steps in resolving conflicts? Only then can we really model.
For younger children, we often think of things such as using our bodies to walk over to the child, connecting with the child and getting the child’s attention, using a calm voice with a simple request, helping the child follow-through in the request. If conflict ensues, it often is just a matter of hungry/tired/exhausted/needing connection, helping the child calm down, following through or making restitution. Attacking, lecturing in a long tirade, blaming doesn’t do anything to teach a child how to communicate or solve conflict.
For older children, things become infinitively more complex however. There is often less of a “working together” model in place developmentally, which is normal, but it can also impact communication and openness. Here are some suggestions to lay a good baseline:
What are the ESSENTIAL family rules (boundaries)? Not like pick your socks up off the floor, but the really essential things. What specifically triggers the adults in the family, and the 9-12 year olds and makes the house less peaceful? What is so essential it can’t be avoided, but what is not essential and could be discarded? Pick and choose the ESSENTIAL.
In our family, this does include respect and good manners for one another. Manners are how we show we care about one another, and we should have respect for the fact that we are all different people with different temperaments, personalities, and interests living in the same house together.
If there are things like doing homework or completing chores causing conflict in the family how could you break it down into an action plan that garners cooperation?
Make the family a place of POSITIVENESS and SUPPORT. One of my favorite phrases to use with my children is, “I am here to help you. Tell me what you would like to see happen.” That opening often sets up a much better conversation.
Make the family a place of TEAMWORK. This is often set in ages birth-9, but it is never too late to start!
EMPOWER. Children ages 9-12 are not going to do things the way you do them as an adult, but the more empowerment you can give them within the rules of the house and what needs to happen. What will happen if responsibilities are not done? If poor words are chosen? If the child becomes completely angry? Figure these things out in a time of quiet and calm, and have it ready to go and draw upon.
START TEACHING. Responding to what other people say in a defensive way is not an effective way to communicate, and just like learning to walk or throw a baseball, learning how to communicate takes PRACTICE. A few hints:
Everyone must be calm. This step often takes much, much longer than everyone would like. Take the time to calm down. Come back later. There are few things that have to be solved in a split second.
No defensiveness. No yelling. No name calling. No accusations. No physicality. If any of these things happen on the part of your 9 to 12 year old to you, stay calm. Tell your child you would like to help them. Most 9-12 year olds can still get really overwhelmed by emotions, and need space and time. Defensiveness, yelling, name calling, accusations only ramps up the whole thing and instead of problem solving it is just emotions spilling everywhere.
We can all disagree, but the reality is if we all live together, we have to come up with solutions that work for the family, and we have to agree upon boundaries and rules in order to live together. Nine to twelve year olds are often not really logical, so it is important to help guide the discussions.
Listen carefully, and talk about how things happened and what you would each like to see happen. Come up with a plan. Make restitution.
I would love to hear your experiences in communicating with your 9-12 year olds! Let’s exchange ideas!
Blessings and love,