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Category Archives: Communication Skills

“Why won’t my son talk to me anymore?”

3 ways to get him to talk to you …and hear you!
Him may be your son, your husband, your partner, your father, your brother…

–Many moms tell me the ONE THING they’d like to change the most is that they wouldn’t have to repeat themselves “a thousand times” with their sons.

–Many teachers tell me that things would be so different in their classroom if boys “would just listen.”

–Many wives tell me they wish their husbands would respond to them, so they could know they had been heard!

Rather than taking this epidemic of “non-talking & non-listening” personally, you can change your expectations and approach a bit and you’ll soon realize that he IS listening, that he DOES want to engage with you – it just needs to be ‘framed’ a little bit differently.

Here are 3 ways to FINALLY get him to talk AND listen to you:

1. Fewer Words
Females tend to process while talking – feeling what happened, recalling the words attached to the feelings, and planning what to do about it – all as we are talking to our sons and other males.
Males have fewer places in their brains to process language, which means all of your words can be overwhelming!
Try using fewer words, asking one question and waiting for an answer, and leaving out some of the less-than-necessary details of your story.

2. More Time
With fewer places to process your words, he may need more time to process your words and formulate a response. For some males, this could be as long as sixty seconds – that is an entire minute! When is the last time you’ve waited that long for a response to your question or comment? Try it – you may find the conversation actually continues longer and is more satisfying for both of you.

3. Choose Your Moment
Bombarding your son the minute he gets in the car after school with the classic question, “How was school today?” may provoke a meltdown or stony silence. Boys are more visual than verbal and yet most schools are more verbal than visual, so by the end of the day he is tired, overwhelmed, and stressed out. Let him have some quiet time (and a protein snack) before you begin the questioning…and ask only ONE question at a time!

10 Tips to Bring Out His Best

Boys have a different way of connecting with you and with the world. You can help him by understanding his way of communicating. Remember, it is HIS job to try out a wide range of behavior. It is YOUR job to interpret and guide him into a socially acceptable range, age-appropriately.

These tips aren’t just for boys – girls benefit from these strategies, too.

WARNING: Do not attempt to implement all of these at once! Choose one or two, practice, adjust as needed.

1. Define the problem clearly.

Brainstorm rules together. Set clear, simple rules. Enforce them fairly and consistently. Make sure you are an example of the rules that have been set.

2. Gesture.

Point to the infraction or to the rule as it is posted rather than talking too much.

3. One word.

Resist filling in details. Speak firmly and calmly. Choose nouns, rather than verbs. Sometimes an interested, “Hmm…” will be enough to prompt action.

4. Give information.

Give the rule again, as information. Describe what needs to happen. “We can go to the park as soon as your room is clean.”

5. State how you feel (and then drop it).

Describe your feelings and then take a deep breath and move on. “I was disappointed when I came home and saw that your chores weren’t done.”

6. State expectations in the positive.

It is often easy to say what we don’t want, rather, ask yourself: “What do I want instead?”

7. State what needs to happen.

Describe specifically what needs to be done, focusing on the object rather than the person.

8. Write it down.

Post the rules. Write a note or card, which allows you to think about what you want to say and allows boy a chance to digest and determine action.

9. Adjust the outer environment.

Are your boy’s physical needs being met? Boys are easily overstimulated and guard against it by acting out. A quiet, simple environment will support your boy’s development. Be aware the children take in images and words literally, with no ability to filter. Media images, including video games, have long term impacts on behavior, stress, learning disorders, and social adjustment.

10. Feed your son’s inner life.

Staying connected may take longer but its important that all adult’s in the boy’s life persist. Provide healthy male role models in real life and through literature. Acknowledge all of his feelings while limiting his behavior.

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Positive Thoughts or Not?

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Our minds are always ON – especially if we are female.

Our brains are just designed that way.

Are you thinking positive thoughts?

We have about 60,000 thoughts each day – that’s about one thought per second during every waking hour. (No wonder we’re so tired at the end of the day!) More surprising, though, is that 95% are the same thoughts we had yesterday…and the day before…and the day before that!

Talk about a rut!

It gets worse.
80% of those recurring thoughts are NEGATIVE.
Do the math: That’s 45,000 negative thoughts every. single. day.

EVERYTHING we do as people, as parents… begins and ends with our thoughts.

As Dolly Parton said, “We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”

YOU CAN adjust “the sails” of your thoughts.

When you hear yourself say something in the negative – either in your head to yourself or to your child or your partner, turn it around.


Try asking yourself: “What do I want instead?”

Instead of “Don’t spill your milk!” Try: “Keep the milk in your cup.”

Instead of “Stop whining!” Try: “Use your strong voice.”

Instead of “I’m not good at that.” Try: “I’m getting better at that every day.”

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Boy-Friendly Schools

Is He Going ‘Back-to-School’ in a Boy-Friendly School? –
Are you wondering how he is going to do THIS year? Is he in a boy-friendly school? Does he have a boy-friendly teacher?

A boy-friendly environment looks different.

As academics continue to get “pushed down” into younger and younger grades, boys often suffer. When the early years of play turn too soon to academics – what was once first grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten – boys struggle to fit into these new constraints and school becomes stress-filled rather than joy-filled. Add to that teachers who are simply overwhelmed by boy energy and you’ve got trouble.

“Every behavior is useful in some context.”

Yet school is often a context that does not fit boys.

I’ve seen first grade boys completely bewildered when asked to follow multiple directions, complete fine-motor tasks, and sit still and be quiet — all at the same time. It is nearly impossible for them, which leads to frustration (melt-downs and/or tummy aches), stress (acting out / being silly) and generally making everyone around them a little bit crazy. It also leads to the dreaded question, “Shouldn’t we be testing him for ADD?”

What does a boy-friendly school look like?
– MORE ‘CHAOS’ – Classes are noisier with kids in motion more often. This is not a “sit still and learn” environment – and you don’t want it to be!

-LESS CLUTTER – Boys tend to be highly visual. Too much visual stimulation can be overwhelming. Boy-friendly classrooms are decorated with simplicity in mind. Rules & assignments are posted visually/graphically rather than just with words. There is more floor space to play, work with clipboards, work on projects etc.

– MORE RECESS/MOVEMENT – In addition to recess there are other opportunities to move during the day – most importantly a time to pause during lessons to get up and stretch or ‘take a lap’ when the wiggles get too overwhelming.

How can you create a more boy-friendly experience for your son (at home and school)?
– MOVEMENT – Make sure he moves before school. Park several blocks away and walk; promote a jump rope or shooting hoops club before school with parents supervising (teachers will be grateful – and girls will love it, too!).

– LITERACY – Reading is the key to success in school and in life. Yet, boys often don’t consider themselves readers. Make sure your son’s classroom has plenty of boy-friendly reading materials – manuals, catalogs, dictionaries, graphic novels, magazines. Boys tend to read for a purpose and read in shorter bursts. Start collecting materials now. (And make sure he sees the men in his life reading!)

– ADVOCATE – Working within a parent organization, you can be the catalyst to begin a conversation at your school about the different ways that boys and girls learn and how to foster a boy-friendly environment (girls benefit, too!) An excellent resource is the book Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian.

When teachers and parents understand that boys need a different kind of structure at school and home, then discipline and behavioral issues decline and school enthusiasm increases. The contexts fit and our boys succeed!

What a great way to begin the year!

YOU must be the advocate for your son.

Boys Alive! has the resources to help you:

1. BOY TALK – Download interviews with parenting experts and expert parents on many all-things-boys topics: The Birds and The Bees; Coping with Grief; Boy-Friendly Schools; Peace with your Preschooler, and more!

2. HOST AN EXPERT – Janet Allison speaks nationally and internationally and creates programs designed for your specific school situation. Her talks are dynamic, engaging, and often have the highest turn-out of any school sponsored parent evening because of the compelling topic of boys! Discuss possibilities with her – EMAIL JANET>>

3. JOIN THE CONVERSATION – Our private Facebook group is open to you! Join us as we help each other, share successes, and feature ideas and advice for making life with boys at home and school even more fun and successful. JOIN US HERE>>

How Your Words Matter

One Twist Can Change Your Day from Lousy to Lovely

You’ve probably heard this famous quote by Gandhi:
“Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Okay, sure, but what word(s)? When? HOW??

Trust me, it’s easy.

It starts with changing one word.
I’ll give you multiple examples but oh-you-over-achiever – pick only one! ONE. One to begin with, get it securely embedded as a habit (which takes 21 days), and then pick ONE more.

The only other rule: Say each example sentence OUT LOUD.

Here goes:

1. This/That
By turning this into that you distance yourself from any problem. It takes the burning heat out of an issue so you can think and communicate clearly.

“I have a problem with this.”
Now change it to: “I have a problem with that.”

2. Should/Could
When a should becomes a could, you give yourself permission to do the task – only this time with your own free will, allowing the task to become joy filled!

“I should clean the house now.”
Now change it to: “I could clean the house now.”

Added bonus, try this one for a real sense of freedom and joy!:
“I GET TO clean the house now!”

3. Always/Never
These ‘qualifiers’ usually limit our experience to the not-so-positive. They tend to beat us up. Yet when we put always/never into the past we open up new choices for the future.

“I always forget my grocery bags.”
Now change it to: “I used to forget my grocery bags.”

“I never remember her phone number.”
Now change it to: “I sometimes forget her number.”

The power of Always/Never can, however, be used for good not evil…
“She always finds her way.”
“He never makes mistakes he can’t recover from.”

A twist of a word, a turn of a phrase, and you’re on your way to changing your own thoughts and beliefs about yourself…and, imagine what this will do for your children!

Choose one, see how often you can use it. You will see how your words matter to yourself and to your children.
(Warning: Don’t be surprised if you start hearing your children twist their words and turn their phrases, too!)

Boys Alive: Hugs and Slugs – If Boys Could Speak

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Janet Allison, founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer (

Boys Alive: What happens when Boy Greets Grandma

Recently, I watched as a 6-year-old boy and his mom greeted grandma at the airport gate. Grandma was eager to give her grandson a hug. He readily complied, however, his arms were by his side, his body held tightly erect. As soon as Grandma released her grandson, with exclamations of joy from her and a smile from him, he turned — and slugged his mom’s leg with his fist.
Translation: I’m excited beyond words!

Two kindergarten boys do the ‘wrist-burn,’ one squeezing and twisting the other’s wrist as hard as he can – each smiling from ear to ear.
Translation: You are my best friend!

Two 4th grade boys grab each other by the shoulders – shaking each other, fake-wrestling, and giggling.
Translation: Will you play with me at recess?

Parents and teachers generally respond to situations like these with, “Use your words.” We can be uncomfortable with these physical expressions of connection, especially in a school setting. They may include more physical doing – using hands and bodies and less direct eye-contact and words.

In his book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, Michael Gurian explains that these interactions are typical male ways of interacting, calling them aggression-nurturance. Females, on the other hand, typically relate more with empathy-nurturance, which includes many more words.

There are two tasks at hand for us:
1. Understanding and becoming comfortable with the idea of aggression-nurturance and recognizing that there is as much value in this expression of connection as there is in empathy-nurturance.

2. Continuing to help boys and girls grow in their use of language – especially understanding and using words that explain feelings, thus developing empathy skills.

Empathy is developed by:
• Identifying our feelings.
• Giving them words.
• Expressing them to another – appropriately or inappropriately .

The boy at the airport had a big feeling – but didn’t know how to express it.

How do we help him Feel, Acknowledge, and Express?

FEELINGS: We think in pictures and so it is helpful to give children images to describe their feelings. This will also help them understand the many nuances of feelings that occur. Do you feel like a rumbling volcano? Do you feel like hot lava rolling down the sides of a volcano? Or do you feel like a volcano shooting fire into the air? Children are brilliant, and with some guidance, will give you images of their own. Using animals for imagery is often helpful, too.

The boy at the airport may have been “feeling all bubbly inside.”

WORDS: Boys typically develop their vocabulary later than girls and use less words than girls. It is helpful to give boys a ‘smorgasboard’ of feeling words. We can prepare them ahead, role-play, or follow-up after the emotions of a situation have calmed down. In all cases, giving them suggested words to put with emotions helps them expand their emotional vocabulary.

The boy at the airport could be given words such as, “excited, ecstatic, nervous.”

EXPRESSING: Boys and girls (and men and women) have very different styles of communicating. Many boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder while doing something, rather than focusing intently with eye-to-eye contact. Allow him to play with something in his hands, move his body, or be looking away and know that he is more comfortable (and therefore the words may come more readily) and that you’re creating a safe way for him to connect with you.

The boy at the airport could be talking with mom as he is watching people in the security line, and she stands shoulder-to-shoulder beside him.

Rather than shutting down aggression-nurturance and making it wrong, we can welcome it and add some empathy-nurturance, too. As parents and teachers recognize these differences, we can bring balance to the communication styles of both boys and girls.

Recommended Further Study:
Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best! By Janet Allison
Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian
Boy Talk – How you can help your son express his emotions by Mary Polce-Lynch

For Professional Development on Gender-Friendly Strategies: The Gurian Institute

Janet Allison is an author, educator, and Family Coach. She is the Founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer. She holds a master’s certification in Neuro-Linguistics incorporating these communication skills into her unique parenting curriculum. She has recently launched the Boys Alive! Certification Program specifically for parenting coaches and counselors. For more information, visit

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