Being a parent calls for a constant stream of communication that seems to go in one ear and out the other – that’s if our kids hear us at all. Worse are those heated moments, the ones where we find ourselves trapped in power struggles that we can’t find a way out of. Then there are those times when we simply don’t know how to answer our kids’ toughest questions. So why do we have such a difficult time communicating with our kids? The biggest problem is that parents more often than not “talk, talk, talk” without considering how their children are receiving the message, assuming that they understand.
Even though many parent/child interactions lead to misunderstandings, it’s not that difficult to become an effective communicator and it’s very rewarding. The following 9 tips helped me learn how to communicate with my son and grandchildren at just about any age, using words, tones and approaches that actually make sense once you use them.
Improve your listening skills
One of the first things you need to do if you want to effectively communicate with your children is to fine tune your listening skills. It’s important to give your undivided attention to your child, along with providing the appropriate responses when they talk to you. To get the conversation started, asking questions like how their day is going can help encourage conversation – then just listen.
Respect your child enough not to push conversation of they don’t feel like talking, but be available to them when they’re ready.
When they do want to communicate, make eye contact with them, getting down to eye level with little ones, showing your child that they have your full attention.
Don’t diminish how they’re feeling
Remember how you felt when someone tried to push you to their way of thinking, saying things like “you don’t mean that!”, or “that’s ridiculous?” Kids feel exactly the same way when you say similar things to them. Instead, acknowledge their feelings.
If your child makes a statement, try to repeat it to them in a different way, so that you can clarify how they are feeling. “I can hear you’re feeling angry.”
Sometimes, simply acknowledging how they’re feeling is all a child has to hear. Avoid contradicting what your child shared with you right away, even if you don’t agree with them. Always hear them out first, letting them vent if they need to before saying yes or no.
Don’t judge when answering questions
Take note of your child’s question without correcting or passing judgement. Take a minute or two to consider their question before you respond, which will force you to slow down and avoid making a snap judgment, even if the answer is going to be “No, you can’t get a pony”.
Pausing before you answer will make your child feel listened to and appreciated.
Why? Because you’ve taken the time to consider their opinion. Pausing before answering also minimises the likelihood of a power struggle.
Listen with love and patience
If your child is having a meltdown, let their negative feelings come out, even when what they’re saying is difficult to take. Just being there for them, not saying much, will comfort and soothe them. Patiently waiting it out until the storm has passed and all their feeling are expressed can make all the difference when it comes to opening the lines of communication.
Once your child calms down, especially after a semi-destructive melt down, calmly remind them that they need to clean up the mess, whether it’s writing with crayons on the wall, or other damage that affect the family. Let them know that everyone in the family has a responsibility to do their part to keep the home in order but that all is forgiven.
Don’t rant and attack
When your child acts out, rather than getting mad and saying hurtful things like “you’re a bad “____”, say something like “saying that is not okay.” That way, you are separating the behaviour from the child. The last thing you want to do is suggest that your child is inherently bad, or make them feel ashamed of their feelings.
Honesty is the best policy with parenting, too
As parents, it’s important to decide beforehand what subjects you feel comfortable talking about between the two of you. Then, encourage your child to feel comfortable asking difficult questions and show them respect by doing your best to respond honestly as the father or the mother. Also, always focus on the positive before you bring up any negatives. For instance, if your child makes a mistake on a school assignment, first compliment them on their efforts before talking about what they got wrong.
Share a personal story
If your child is sharing a situation with you that they’re having trouble with, describe a similar situation that you were faced with when you were their age. Sharing your childhood memory can help them better understand their situation and the fact that everything turned out alright. This doesn’t mean you should monopolise the conversation. Constantly saying, “I know how you feel, let me tell you what happened to me,” may be more annoying than helpful.
Show the love
Thanks to hectic schedules, we all need to be reminded once in a while to remember to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. Tell your children how much you love and appreciate them as often as possible. Even if your kids are at an age where getting a hug from mum is embarrassing, nobody has ever complained about hearing the words “I love you” too many times.
Don’t forget to take care of yourselves
Being a parent is very rewarding, but it’s definitely not always easy and is a constant learning curve for both mum, dad and the kids. Patting yourself on the back once in a while for all of your efforts is important as is making sure to fit some “me time” into your busy lives. It’s important not to forget to show yourself some love and respect along with your children.
Communication, and the ability to listen, is crucial to any relationship, especially between children and their parents. Let’s face it, growing up is hard and it is up to us as parents to create a loving, safe environment for our children, where they can freely talk about their actions, thoughts and feelings.
Got any other useful tips to share? Let us know in the comments.
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