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Connecting with Your Kids: Slow it Down!


By Dr. James Sutton, Psychologist

I was recently in a phone consultation with some parents. In the conversation I stressed to them the importance of slowing down our conversations and our interactions with our children, especially ones that can be difficult. Conflicts happen quickly and can easily escalate into big trouble. Communication that heals and builds on relationships should happen slowly.

The problem is that our kids don’t want to slow down. They’re always in high gear. So how do we slow down our communication without frustrating them or making them angry?

Well, how about a trip in the car? The time in going to a destination is already available, and communication doesn’t require eye contact. (Many youngsters are more willing to talk with an adult when eye contact isn’t a necessity.)

Obviously, you’ll need to set up some ground rules: the radio and CD player will remain off, and there will be no earbuds, headphones, MP3 players or portable video games. You might open the conversation something like this:

You know, we don’t really make the time to visit like we should. It seems like if one of us isn’t busy, the other one is. You are important to me and I value the opportunity to just visit with you as we go to Grandma’s. Would that be alright? Could we talk with no radio, music or distraction? I’d rather listen to YOU than anything else on this trip. Would that be okay?

It’s important to avoid discussions of anything that might provoke conflict while in the automobile, or else you’ll play heck getting the kid into the car again. Make the effort, at least early on, to really listen and respond to what your child has to say. Make it a point to find an opportunity later to thank the child for visiting with you on the trip. The thanking them part is very important, as their cooperation is not automatic.

This approach even works with groups. I was once a psychologist for a treatment center; I had a co-therapist that assisted me with the group. On a whim one day, we loaded about six or eight very emotionally disturbed adolescent females into the van and just went for a drive. It worked so well we used it again and again as a therapeutic tool. We jokingly called it Cruise Therapy. It was a hit.

While out on a Cruise Therapy trip with the girls one afternoon, one of them said, “Turn here!” She directed us to drive by the house where she and her mom had lived. She began sharing more about herself than she had ever shared back at the facility. The other girls began sharing more about themselves, also. They didn’t want the session to end, a huge change in itself.
It was magic in a Ford van. Go out and create some magic of your own. ###

Although a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton deeply values his first calling as a public school teacher.  Today he is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. Dr. Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website, http://www.DocSpeak.com.

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