Our kids trick us, don’t they? They pop into the world with an insatiable appetite to hear our voices. They train us to talk, sing and read to them, over and over until we become oh-so-well trained.

But then, somewhere along the parenting journey, they change the rules. No longer do they delight in our babbling or celebrate our singing. They tune us out just when we so desperately want to tune in.

Welcome to the ever-changing world of parenting.

What the Heck is Going On?

What’s happening is natural. Our kids are maturing and taking important steps to begin the process of establishing a healthy amount of independence. The problem is that they are still kids that need our guidance and input. But they don’t think they do, so they don’t listen. And what do we do in return?

We lecture – at lengths, because we think if we go on and on, eventually some of our words will sink in.

The reality? We become like the cartoon character’s dialogue of “blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.”

We lecture, and no one listens, but worst of all, our important lines of communication with our children begin to break down.

Listen More, Lecture Less

Every child expert I’ve spoken to has said that as children get older, we need to listen more and lecture less. “Listen 80 percent of the time,” is the advice I’ve heard many times.

Ask questions, for sure, but be careful not to turn every conversation into a game of 20 Questions. Just listen, absorb and occasionally respond with a sincere, “I love hearing what you think about things.” Children and teenagers will value that, even if they don’t tell you so.

Keep This Rule in Your Back Pocket

My personal technique for communicating with older kids is something I refer to as the “30 Second Rule,” and in all honesty, I think it’s been one of the most effective communication tools I use – when I feel the need to lecture, I limit it to 30 seconds.

I make my point, and then I ask them to think about it and circle back with me. Sound crazy? Here’s my step-by-step process:

Step 1: Introduction

When I feel the need to preach to my kids, I introduce the talk with, “I need 30 seconds to share something with you that’s been on my mind. Is your head in a good place to listen?”

The interesting thing is that my kids almost always want me to keep talking when I introduce a topic like this. I’m showing them respect and telling them that their participation in this is important. It works.

Step 2: The 30-Second Lecture

I make my point (being sure to have practiced it or thought it through ahead of time). Is 30 seconds the magic number? Of course not. Just be brief, and close by saying, “Okay, that’s what I wanted you to know. I want to hear your thoughts later today when you’re ready to talk.” 

Step 3: Follow Up

Your kids may surprise you by wanting to continue the discussion immediately. If not, then honor your promise to keep it brief, then change the subject. But circle back later in the day to give them a chance to share their thoughts. And remember to listen 80 percent of the time! The key is to find a path to start a conversation. If you’re successful with that, you’re well on your way to opening strong lines of communication.