Seven ways to get your children to actually listen to you

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

This week, BBC radio presenter Jeremy Vine became the latest parent to advocate talking to your children in the car. He has a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old and he's discovered that the only way to communicate (about something important, not Love Island) is when he's driving, with one of them captive in the passenger seat.

This will not be news to anyone with children over the age of 10. It will not be news to anyone who has been in a car with another person, for that matter.

Cars are excellent places for talking - both of you facing forward, with nothing to do and no possibility of eye contact - as are parallel sunloungers, the shallow end of the swimming pool, or in bed with the lights out.

But you can't rely on car journeys alone. As someone who is a few years ahead of Jeremy in the parenting journey (my youngest stepchild is in his twenties), I have some other tips for talking to youth and getting them to listen, occasionally.

Here goes:

1. Go for a walk (though good luck with that if it's not perfect conditions and on the way to somewhere that they were planning to go anyway).

It's the same principle as being in the car - both of you are facing ahead, with nothing else to do - and it may have the edge, as you can link arms if appropriate, pick up the pace to release tension, pause on a bench to sob, etc.

2. Cook together.

Again, a side-by-side situation, but this time you are semi-occupied, so even better. Whatever you're cooking must be unambitious, though. Mince pies with bought pastry and bought filling is the right sort of level. Alternatively, you can cook while they wander around, out of eye contact, looking for their missing headphones.


Note: back turned in kitchen is often the best way to communicate. The thing to remember is, when they say: "Anyway, I'm thinking of dropping out of law school...", Do Not Turn Around. Chop and compose, chop and compose.

3. Talk on the phone.

Simples. One of my stepchildren once rang me to vent, then 15 minutes into the conversation discovered we were both in the house, hung up, resumed the conversation face-to-face, and it was all of a sudden terribly awkward.

We went from, "Omigod, You Will Not Believe This", to "It's nothing, really. Better get going."

4. Get them off land - in a plane, on a boat (boy, do they talk on boats, you can't shut them up).

Also swimming, especially in the sea, has the same effect of loosening tongues. They will share things that they wouldn't dream of sharing on dry land, especially in the North Sea. It may be the adrenalin.

5. When starting a conversation, try not to put on the wise and calm voice, which is in fact the "life lessons" voice.

Likewise, don't begin a sentence with "So..." or "Now...". Both automatically trigger force-shield lockdown. They cannot hear you now.

You are on the other side of a reinforced Perspex screen making a noise like a small fly in the very far distance.

6. Start with a hug and then another one.

If you think there's something wrong, it works much better than diving in with: "What's the matter?" Never say: "What's the matter?" That sounds to them like: "Do buck up, will you?" You might say: "Are you OK?" then make them a cup of tea and try again.

7. Ask their opinion on something - Gareth Bale's $1 million-a-week deal/polyamory/plus-size models.

Try saying: "What do you think...", because a lot of the time you are pretty keen to pass on the benefit of your vast experience and wisdom before it's too late... and they hate that.

Not saying any of this will necessarily work, but if you rely on car journeys between now and nest-fleeing, you will be virtual strangers.

The Daily Telegraph, London