The saying goes, “Talk is cheap” but the reality is effective communication is priceless. When our children are young, they tell us everything…and I do mean EVERYTHING!! (and not always at the most appropriate time!) As our children grow and become increasingly more independent, they come to us less and less for advice and communication. That doesn’t mean they need us less. It does mean that laying the foundation for open communication is essential. During times of high stress, like moving to a new home, effective communication can be the first casualty. Becoming skillful at asking the right questions at the appropriate time to draw out information is a critical tool for our parenting toolbox.
Here is our Top 10 List of Communication Tools:
10. Be available. This one can be difficult as we all live our more-than-full-time lives. Plan time to just be around when your kids are around. Utilize “car time” and the endless shuttling to and from activities to be present. Use visual cues to let your kids know you’re listening – stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, nodding and rephrasing to encourage conversation.
9. Be prepared. Chances are kids will hit you with those topics you are most uncomfortable talking about at a time when you are least prepared to talk about them! Spend some time thinking about how you want to talk to your kids about sensitive topics. Practice by talking with a spouse, family member or trusted friend so when it comes time to deliver, you can.
8. Use the Rule of 5’s. Think of five things you want your kids to know (really KNOW) five years from now and start talking about it NOW. Repetition is key to learning and it gives you time to perfect your communication about important topics.
7. Ask first. Kids don’t always want us to solve their problems. In fact, our job is NOT to solve their problems but to teach, coach, and consult so they can learn to solve their own problems. When your child comes to you to talk about a problem, ask them if they want you to help with solutions or just listen.
6. Use your ears. LISTEN and SILENT have exactly the same letters. Be silent and listen completely to what your child is saying. As parents we sometimes fall in to the trap of feeling like we need to have all the answers figured out in advance. The reality is we don’t. We can’t possibly have everything figured out because we, like our kids, are works in progress. Silence tells your kids you are really thinking about what they have to say.
5. Focus on feelings. Place the focus on your child’s feelings and try to control your own. Kids will focus on your anger or defensiveness and shut down rather than open up – and they may hesitate to come to you in the future. Children may need assistance in connecting feelings to action and, from there, deciding the best way to handle their problems. Helping them identify feelings and how our feelings impact our actions paves the way for better decision-making later.
4. Use the 4 W’s and H Factor- Ask more effective questions by utilizing more 4 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) and H (how) questions. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and go on a fact-finding expedition. Steer clear of judgment (What were you thinking!?) and steer toward openness (How did that turn out for you?)
3. Avoid blocks. There are many things as parents we unknowingly do that block effective communication. In our quest to help our children succeed, we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot at the outset. Sometimes we stray down the wrong path of giving advice (unsolicited), judging, reading between the lines, or hijacking (let me tell you about the time I….). These and other communication blocks can send the wrong message to our children that our opinions and experiences matter more than theirs. True, we have had more experiences than our children and we have (hopefully) learned valuable lessons from them. Now it’s our child’s turn to learn those valuable lessons, no matter how much it hurts us to let them do it!
2. Start. Start the conversation yourself, not necessarily about a problem but as a way to build a strong, positive foundation for future, possibly more difficult, conversations. Strive to be an “askable parent.” Your kids won’t always feel comfortable coming to you with their problems but as long as they know they will be listened to, respected and heard, that barrier will be much easier for them to overcome. Visit iMom Conversation Starters for some tools to help get the ball rolling.
……and the Number 1 tool for effective communication….
Acceptance. Show you care and that you accept your child for who he or she is. Their solutions may not be your solutions but they will learn infinitely more by experiencing both the positive and negative consequences of their decisions than they will learn by doing it “your way.”
For more information about the Moving Families Initiative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.