Radio presenter Jeremy Vine some time ago suggested that the best way to get children to listen to you is to talk to them while in the car – you driving and the child 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. Here are some other tips for talking to youth and getting them to listen, occasionally:
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).
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.
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.
Start with a hug and then another one. 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.
Ask their opinion on something. 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