“How was your day?” Rebecca asked her twelve-year-old when he came home from school. “Ok,” he responds. “Did you learn anything new today?” she asks. “Nope,” her son plainly says while staring out the window. “Well, what did you do today?” she asks. “Nothing,” her son responds in a tone of voice that was clearly saying, “I’ll be thirteen next month, mom, please stop trying to talk to me, gosh!”Rebecca picked up on this tone of voice and stopped the conversation there.
Do you find it difficult to communicate with your own children?
Does it seem hard to connect with your children and understand them emotionally?
Communication with your children today is important, especially in this day and age. Your children are facing not only decisions about drugs and sex but also other dangers that previous generations didn’t face, such as cyberbullying and “sexting.” Since these are no longer just teenage problems, it is important to teach effective communication skills to children at an early age.
As a parent, it is vital to talk and listen to your children to understand them emotionally and know them as an individual. This is why knowing how to talk to your children and (sometimes more importantly) listen to them is vital.
Tips to Teach Effective Communication Skills
When children have a problem or concern: keep the ball in their court and guide them through the process of finding their own solutions, using the F-A-X Listening process:
- Focus on feelings:
- Listen to your children without lecturing them. Give your children an opportunity to share how they feel and what they are going through. This allows them to express their feelings and begin to build their decision-making skills.
- Accept your children’s feelings. This does not mean you have to agree with them.
- If you see aggressive behavior in children, teach them how to channel their anger or express emotions in more appropriate ways. Even young children can draw a picture.
- Allow your children to have their own preferences and opinions, different from your own.
- Let your children know that you are paying attention and taking an interest in what they are saying by using nonverbal communication such as nodding your head and making eye contact.
- Ask helpful questions:
- Ask open-ended questions that invite sharing.
- If you are tempted to lecture or give advice, ask questions that will lead the child to consider the points you might have made. For example, instead of lecturing children about the importance of good grades, you could ask, “What will happen if you don’t do that homework? (wait for answer) And then what? (wait for answer) What would happen if you failed that course? (wait for answer) And how will that affect your ability to graduate? (wait for answer) So how might it affect you in the future if you never learn this or forget it because it wasn’t practiced through homework?” The key is that you aren’t grilling them. You are directing their thoughts in a direction they might not have considered — not to control them or what they decide, but to assure they are thinking through the possibilities.
- Avoid asking questions like “why?” These questions shift the focus from feelings to analyzing and usually cause people to feel defensive. Instead, focus on your children’s feelings and use feeling words in a sentence to show your children you understand how they feel. For example, try saying, “It sounds like you are feeling/feel/felt (feeling word) when (the situation they are telling you about).
- eXamine possible solutions:
- Help your children brainstorm ways to respond to the situation. Ask, “What could you do about that?”
- Once they have multiple options to consider, suggest they evaluate them by asking, “What would happen if you did that?” If you see a potential problem with the idea further down the road than they are seeing, ask a question that leads their thinking in that direction or simply ask, “…and then what might happen? (wait for answer)…and then what?”
When you have a problem or concern, instead of lecturing, blaming, shaming, yelling, or any of those unproductive tactics that shut down communication, keep your cool and use any of the following effective communication skills that best fit the situation:
- Describe what you see. For example, say, “I see milk that was left out on the table.”
- Give information that they can use for future reference, such as, “When milk is left out it spoils”.
- Avoid lectures and get your children to listen better by using fewer words. For example, you could just say “Milk!” when the milk is left out. Make sure your tone of voice is still calm and respectful.
- Focus on solutions, not blame. Instead of “Who left the milk out?” you can say, “I expect whoever takes the milk out to put it away.”
- Use nonverbal communication by coming up with a friendly hand signal or write a short note to get your message across.
Remember to be authentic and have the courage to be imperfect. It’s a lot easier for children to relate to and trust an imperfect parent. If they think you are perfect, they’ll worry about displeasing or disappointing you and might not share their troubles or mistakes.
By using these effective communication skills in your family, you will create relationships with mutual trust and respect. With open lines of communication, everyone’s troubles or mistakes can be seen as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow in a supportive environment.
For more tips on effective communication with your family and more information about The Parent’s Toolshop® and its unique Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system, take the 7 Keys to Parenting Success ebook. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly, and feel more confident in every parenting situation.
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. Locally, she’s served as the Parenting Expert for the original Dayton Parent Magazine, Dayton Daily News’ 937-513 websites, and C o-Producer for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop® and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
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