Parents often complain bitterly that their children don’t listen. Yet children regularly grumble that their parents don’t listen or understand them either. Unfortunately, both parties are right. In this modern age of mobiles, Internet etc were there is such a vast range of communication tools and gadgets we are often too busy to really connect on a meaningful level. However excellent communication is the glue that holds any healthy relationship together. It is the lynch pin to excellent parenting.
In this article, I intend to explain what communication is, and why communicating with our children is vital. Then I will give you some simple tools for successful communication.
What is communication? Communication is a social interaction, the process of sharing information between two or more people. Communication can be verbal as in speech or non-verbal as in sign language, gestures or written communication. It is the exchanging or imparting of thoughts, opinion or information. Communication is the art of speaking and listening. Good communication requires active listening as well as talking.
Why is good communication vital in a parent child relationship?
- Good communication can determine the nature of parent child relationships from birth to adolescence and beyond.
- Good communication nurtures closer family bonds.
- Good communication prevents misunderstandings from occurring.
- Good communication is the key to building self-esteem in children and young people.
- Children learn how to communicate effectively by following our good example.
The art of good communication – Good communication is all about encouraging children to talk, showing them you are listening, reflective listening, respecting opinions and talking politely. Research shows that about 85% of what we communicate is non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes eye contact, posture, and physical movements such as folding our arms or leaning forward. As you can see non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication so it is very important to watch your body language.
Encouraging children to talk – Encouraging children to talk when they are very young paves the way to positive communication in teenage years. Children who are more reserved will often talk when they are occupied in a physical task such as baking or walking. Most children will need little encouragement to talk but will ‘dry up’ if they are continually interrupted, criticised or ignored. Can you remember a time when you were talking to someone who either kept interrupting or whose mind was elsewhere? I’m sure you felt like giving up because you felt unheard. Children’s biggest complaint about parents is that they don’t listen.
Show them we are listening – Children can be discouraged from communicating if parents are distracted by talking to someone else on the phone or giving instructions to another child. Give your child your undivided attention by switching off the television and facing them. We need to physically get down to children at their level. There will be times when you need to complete a task but you can respond so they know you are listening. Have you ever experienced having a conversation with someone who towered over you? It can be a daunting experience.
Body language is extremely important. An NLP presuppositions state that ‘You cannot not communicate’Positive Body language includes:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Getting down to the child’s level e.g. if they are sitting sit or kneel down
- Mirror and matching – you can match or mirror body language such as posture, gestures and facial expressions to establish and maintain rapport
- Nodding or shaking the head at appropriate times
Verbal responses You can demonstrate you are listening by:
- Asking brief open ended questions
- Making encouraging sounds ‘mmmmm’, ‘right’, ‘oooh?’ ‘I see’, ‘tell me more’, ‘and?’
Reflectve listening – Reflective listening encourages children to ‘open up’ especially when they are struggling with an emotion or experience. Reflective listening is repeating back to a child what they have said or paraphrasing (summarising in your own words). You reflect back what the child has said and the underlying feelings expressed. This shows the child that you are listening and have understood. Reflecting back is listening without judgement. Avoid using reflective listening all the time otherwise your children will be driven round the bend. This method of listening takes practice but with time will deepen any relationship. Ask questions sparingly, avoid giving your children the third degree because they’ll feel intimidated and stop talking.
Respecting opinions – If we want to encourage children to talk confidently about what’s troubling them, they need consistent practice about everyday events and issues. Children are full of ideas and can sometimes express the most weird and unusual ideas. Listening to their ideas and treating them with respect will encourage them to keep talking. Criticism, belittling and humiliation does not encourage open dialogue. Respecting children’s opinions doesn’t mean we agree however it teaches them that it’s all right to hold different opinions and it also demonstrates polite behaviour.
Some years ago during a heated discussion my husband told my mother that her idea was stupid. She was outraged and upset by his comment. Children have feelings and are easily crushed by criticism. Unfortunately children who are constantly ignored or humiliated lack confidence and are reluctant to speak out for fear of humiliation or criticism. Encouraging children to make choices about simple family issues such as where to go on a day out or what colour to paint a room will help develop self-confidence.
Speaking politely – Sometimes children’s behaviour or comments can be aggravating however you can demonstrate polite behaviour by:
- Not using put down words or statement
- Allow them to finish before you respond
- When angry about a situation don’t attempt communication, wait until you have calmed down
- Refrain from shouting or talking between clenched teeth
- Asking what happened rather than why
- Don’t preach and moralise children switch off
- Praise your child’s efforts to communicate
- Use language appropriate to the age of the childIn conclusion, children are excellent imitators.
Children learn by copying whether the example is good or bad. I remember an irate parent demanding ‘who was teaching her f****** son to f****** swear’. I asked her to repeat the question twice before the penny dropped. Remember the old adage ‘action speaks louder than words’ is true. Children are more likely to do what you do rather than do what you say.
Parents need to communicate successfully with their children because failure to do so will result in a rift or schism. A rift in a relationship leaves a void that may unfortunately be filled with inappropriate relationships, unacceptable behaviour, drug or alcohol abuse or inappropriate sexual relationships. When parents talk daily to their children about the little things they establish a pattern. This makes it natural for children to talk to their parents about the important things in their lives.