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Dealing Gently with Children and Teenagers

Confrontation generally results in winners and losers. Gentle, ongoing communication, on the other hand, tends to produce winners and winners. Here are some tips for ongoing communication with children.

1. Ask questions gently and cleverly.

If a child comes home from school looking sullen, and you want to avoid stock answers to stock questions like 'How was school today?' ('Don't know', 'Can't remember' etc) then it's a good idea to gently ask more specific questions. 'Did you make anything today?' or 'Who amazed you today?' often yield more detailed replies, along with, for younger children, 'Was anyone naughty today?' Asked about school as a whole children can shy away from the hugeness of the subject, just as you or I might if asked 'What happened at work today?' Where does one begin? Far better to pick out a confrontable detail -and then often the floodgates open and one gets a full narrative of the day's events.

2. Avoid heavy scenes.

Trying to get an answer to a question -even a sensible one- when a child is distraught usually only worsens the scene. Asking over and over for information when someone is in tears is not very workable. You'll often find that the person is desperately trying to tell you what you need to know but is choked up with emotion and is finding it impossible. Much better to calm the person down, ease their upset, and then wait for a timely moment to ask, preferably in a new way. Avoiding heaviness doesn't mean running away from important conversations: it means spotting what is workable and what isn't and acting accordingly.

3. Change the subject, distract and engage.

Sometimes getting to the bottom of an upset is best done by changing the subject altogether. A child's attention can usually be directed onto more positive things relatively easily, especially when they are younger. With things calmer and something else now absorbing the child's interest, a touchy subject can then be re-engaged in a healthier, more positive way. Why make things harder for the child or yourself by 'notching up the volume' on upsetting incidents or subjects? Difficult issues are much more easily dealt with in a calmer environment, and can usually wait until one is established.

4. Encourage independence -in a safe framework.

Children -especially teenagers- need their own space and the power to make their own decisions, within certain limits. Those limits have to be set by responsible adults with an eye on safety. It's a good idea to discuss these limits with the child or teenager until he or she can clearly see and understand why they have to be in place. Once they have been rationally agreed upon, the rules have a much better chance of being adhered to. Imposed by force, rules can become things to break, overtly or covertly. Within the framework of agreed rules, real independence is possible and should be encouraged.

5. Keep to appropriate guidelines.

Another way to avoid upsets is to stick to recommended guidelines regarding movies, TV shows and computer games. If these are violated, children and teenagers can be disturbed in ways that they sometimes don't have words to describe. Emotions and sensations can be stirred up which are inappropriate age-wise and can lead to all sorts of problems later. It's a domino effect. It's much better to abide by guidelines on these things. The guidelines themselves might not always be correct, but they usually serve to protect children and teenagers from experiencing things that they are not yet equipped to deal with.

Various tricky situations can be deftly managed or avoided altogether using these tips. Life for a child or a teenager should contain as little upset as possible, and you can make it easier for them by applying these.


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