“Pick up your room.” “Empty the dishwasher.” “Take out the trash.” “Walk the dog.” “Stop writing on the wall.” “No, you can’t stay out all night.” “No, you can’t go to that party.” “No, no, no.” Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Unfortunately, this is often the extent of the communication from parents to kids. No wonder kids are reluctant to talk with their parents. Who wants to be bombarded with orders, directions, criticism, warnings, and negative feedback all the time? Children and teens need encouragement, positive feedback, and to hear they are loved and valued in order to develop self-worth, confidence and optimism.
Healthy communication starts with the parents. It is your responsibility to teach your children how to communicate effectively. It is up to you to create an atmosphere in your home that is conducive to conversations. The best way to do this is to respect your children (including their thoughts, opinions, and emotions) and to listen to them. Increase the number of positive exchanges with your kids so they feel loved and valued. When you follow these guidelines for healthy communication you will be surprised by how much your children have to say!
Clearly there is a time and place when parents need to say “no” or to correct a child; however, I am suggesting that you concentrate on increasing the positive communication. You can work on changing the ratio of negative communication to positive communication. The more time you spend having simple and easy conversations and accentuating the positives, the more comfortable your children will be talking with you as they grow up. Another key to healthy communication is the ability to listen. When your child begins to talk, stop what you are doing and listen. Give them your full attention so they feel important and understood.
It is important to encourage young children to try new things and praise them for their efforts. When you praise their efforts versus the results, you help build their confidence. For example, when your child brings home a good report card you can say “I am so proud of your hard work. I know you put a lot of effort into your school work, how do you feel about your results?” If you praise only the results, the child believes that she/he is loved only when they perform to your standards. This may set them up for a life limited by a fear of failure. Encourage them by accentuating their positives. Ask your child what they liked best about their school day. Or ask them what activities they enjoy the most. Make this type of communication your priority when you talk with your kids.
Whatever the age of the child it is important to focus on the things your child has done well versus criticizing their mistakes. Let’s say your child is responsible for walking the dog and does so Monday through Saturday, but forgets on Sunday. Do you get mad and start yelling about the one night your child slipped up? Or do you praise your child for the 6 days they did their chore without being reminded and give them a gentle reminder to take the dog out for a walk now?
While it is best to set the foundation for healthy communication in the early years, it is never too late to employ good communication skills. Many parents of teenagers wonder why their teen is not talking to them about big life issues like sex, drugs, and relationships. If the atmosphere for communicating has not been established, then the teens will be reluctant to talk about such difficult subjects. Parents need to start having more casual, but positive conversations with their teens. They need to build trust and set the stage for deeper conversations.
Spend more time talking with your teenagers. Ask about their interests, opinions, and ideas. Instead of criticizing their music, try starting a conversation. Listen to them and find out what they like about this type of music. You could share your feelings about it – without lecturing them. Remember that teens are struggling for independence and autonomy. You can foster their independence by listening to their ideas and opinions. Avoid talking too much or asking too many questions. Be patient and listen. Try to keep your attention on what your teen is saying and not on what you want to say next.
Encourage your children to think things through and weigh the potential consequences of their actions. Share with them your reasons for saying no to a request (avoid the standard “because I am the parent”). For example, “I don’t want you going to the movies tonight because it is a school night and I want you to do your homework and get to bed on time.” There may be times that you negotiate and find a compromise, but don’t be afraid to stick to your decision if you feel strongly about it.
If you are not satisfied with the type or amount of communication with your children, start implementing these ideas. Healthy communication in a family leads to strong family bonds and better self-esteem and confidence in children. Good communication skills take some time to develop, but the rewards are worth it!