Bethany Prescott, a parenting coach and therapist in Austin, Texas, explains why some girls enter a phase of NOT SPEAKING CLEARLY:
Mumbling is a common change around preadolescence.
Often, girls are confident, wild, and expressive, and then they hit that awkward place. They start to disconnect—and mumble. It’s developmentally normal for their age. As tweens, they’re less interested in what adults think of them than in what their friends think. They just don’t put a lot of care or attention into relating with adults. A lot of kids are also less interested in trying to please adults and being charming, like when they were younger. There’s not a lot of direct engagement. They’re distracted.
The habit also tends to coincide with when kids start using a phone. It’s the mumbling tween, plucking away at her phone. She’s more interested in who’s texting her than relating to adults around her. And it’s a constant distraction—she always has that peer connection in her pocket.
Try not to focus on how annoying you think the mumbling is.
She’ll be much less likely to heed advice that follows criticism. Instead, emphasize how speaking clearly can help her get her message across: “Make sure you enunciate so people know what you’re saying.”
The solution is to get her to see the benefits of communicating better.
Mumbling is girls’ way of communicating on “their terms.” They don’t care to speak up or to speak more clearly. Maybe they’re even a little defiant. For these tween mumblers, coaching should be about politeness and getting them to see that using good communication skills is part of being successful in the world.
Focus on how communicating better will help your tween get what she wants. Tell her, “You have a lot of goals, and the way to get there is to engage and listen to people. It takes expressing yourself and communicating clearly. Life is about connecting with people (not just your friends).”
Give gentle coaching at the right time.
When she mumbles, ask her to try speaking up and speaking more clearly so people can hear her better. Approach it like a skill: “Next time, I’d like you to practice.” Just make sure that if it occurs in public or with other people, you coach her away from the interaction. Talk to her in private afterward and she’ll be much more likely to listen. If she’s being particularly disrespectful, though, there’s no need to wait to say something—just pull her away for a moment and coach her discreetly.
Show what you expect.
When you talk, you’re teaching her what being respectful sounds like: Say yes (not yeah or uh-huh…). Listen, nod, engage. Look up when she’s talking to you, and speak clearly.
Teaching phone etiquette is also important.
Set up some basic rules and boundaries (and model them yourself): The phone is never at the table, whether it’s at home, at a restaurant, or at Grandma’s. When you’re engaging with family or at a special occasion, the phone gets put away. And for exceptions when there’s an urgent matter, she should excuse herself and attend to it away from an interaction.
It’s also helpful to share your observations with your tween: Look at those people on a date, both on the phone. Or that family with the mom on the phone. How does that look? It’s a tricky thing in our culture. You see it a lot with tweens and young adults, but even with parents—a fixation with their phone. Tell her, “I really want you to prioritize in-person communication over your phone. If you master this now, you’ll be ahead. It’s harder to break the habit later on.”
The big breakthrough is often a “job” away from home.
You can coach them, give them suggestions, support them…but sometimes it takes something out of the parents’ scope for kids to really see that you have to engage to succeed. It could be a part-time job, a volunteer position, or working with a teacher to start a club—anything where she has to engage with adults other than her parents.
Photo: bailey foster/Flickr