Parent Corner: Try a Verbal Diet!

I recently met the NYT best-selling author and educator, Rosalind Wiseman during her talk in Amsterdam. Rosalind wrote Queen Bees and Wannabees on helping girls to survive cliques and conflicts (which was the inspiration for the hit movie " Mean Girls") as well as Masterminds and Wingmen on boys’ social hierarchies and its effect on their wellbeing. Her advice for parents: go on a verbal diet!

As parents, we often ask preteens and teens too many questions.  Our constant barrage of questions (and demands) may lead kids to say less instead of more. Her remarks made me think of some of the chats with my boys after school. I generally ask them one question after another: What was the most interesting thing that happened to you today? How was drama class? What homework do you have tonight? Did you eat your snack? Where is your coat? The boys’ response rate generally diminishes with each new question.

Sounds familiar? Her advice is to keep conversations to a minimum. In fact, young people (like adults) often want to decompress after a long day. Rosalind states the times we are on fact finding missions i.e. the ride home after school, the dinner meal, the trip to the store etc. are all just moments, not a lifetime. Hence, keep discussions short and don’t repeat what you have to say. Also, keep questions to three main issues, especially if your kids are distracted easily.

Rosalind’s verbal diet reminds me a book I read called Duct Tape Parenting by Vicki Hoefle. One of the premises of the book is that if you spend more than ten minutes nagging your child every day, it’s time for a change. The book suggests that we apply virtual duct tape and refrain from talking and nagging. The author also suggests that we apply duct tape to our body so that we don’t get too involved in allowing kids to do things for themselves.  I love the visual of putting duct tape on my mouth and saying less not more…  

As for what we should be saying, Vicki Hoefle recommends that we ask curious questions not minutia to make connections and have meaningful discussion. For example, asking teens: Who makes you laugh? What are you most worried about when it comes to leaving home? Who do you follow on Instagram? Can you tell me how you play this videogame? Who is your favorite character in Harry Potter?

Returning to Rosalind Wiseman, her final suggestion regarding communication and the verbal diet resonated with something my husband and I are doing at home. She suggests to wait on big questions till kids are in bed. Darkness can be safety as children don’t need to see your face or expression. Needless to say, some of my most thoughtful conversations with my boys, including when I asked if I was talking too much (answer: ‘yes’), come late at night while they are in bed and ready to sleep.

Bottom line: Make what you say count and say less not more!