When was the last time you heard a child mimic the dialogue from their favorite TV show? Sounding like a Disney starlet *might* be cute to a seven year old, but it can be a challenge to communicate with a little one looking for ways to incorporate lines that merit a laugh track. Or you may be dealing with a teenager’s histrionics or their shutting you out.
Pop culture aside, it’s difficult for parents to feel confident in how they communicate with their children. Whether your child is school aged or a teenager, here are a few tips to ensure that you are communicating effectively as a family.
The first step in effective communication is to be the adult in the relationship rather than acting like a peer.
Each family should determine their own standards to guide how children speak to each other and to the adults around them. Adopt Stephen Covey’s second habit, “Begin With the End in Mind” by teaching your values to young children; with teenagers, hold a family meeting to help them put into words what is acceptable to your family. It is easier to communicate with your child when they are respectful to you.
Consider how your children speak (or text) with their friends: they often express themselves rather than communicate. Simply stated , expressing oneself is to set forth an opinion or feeling, while communicating is about being joined or connected.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”[/pullquote]
We connect with our children when we remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Engage in meaningful discussions with your children from the time that they almost seem too little to have an actual discussion. If you do this, they will be more likely to have a discussion with you when they are teenagers. Being the parent in the relationship means that we actively listen and model appropriate conversation.
Dealing with an emotional child feels a lot like riding a roller coaster. In order to help them resolve their issue, it is important to distill the greater meaning of their concerns from the emotions they are expressing.
Active listening is the second step in effective communication.
Our children need more than body language or neutral expressions of understanding. First, we need to listen to them as if they are an adult we respect. We need to put down what we are doing, look them in the eye, and listen. It can be difficult to pay attention to an emotional tirade about the unfairness of (insert your personal experience here). However, if our children get the sense that we aren’t listening to the small details in their lives, they won’t share what’s important.
In order to help a child focus, ask them to tell you the beginning, middle, and end of their story. Help them name the emotion they are feeling. You might ask, “When _____ happened, how did you feel?” Before moving on, validate that emotion by saying, “That’s tough. I can see that you feel _________.”
Get to the root of the problem by asking open-ended questions beginning with “how” or “why.” Be sure to listen for what is being left out and look for patterns. When we actively listen to our children by validating their emotions and asking questions, we are connecting with them.
Parents are the first and best teachers for their children; we are their social model for communication among other things.
● If we would raise a generation that abhors hate speech, we should not speak it. We should elevate our own thoughts and conversation first.
● If our children use their devices rather than socializing, we need to be the first ones to put our devices down.
● If we want our children to develop healthy relationships in real life rather than via a device, then we need to engage them in actual meaningful conversations.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“ People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”[/pullquote]
When a child shuts down your attempts at conversation, try connecting with them in other ways. Give them your time first, and the conversations will follow. In these instances, Zig Ziglar reminds us that “ People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Expressing ourselves is only saying what we think; communicating builds relationships.