Someone once pointed out to me that the words LISTEN and SILENT have exactly the same letters. Never noticed, but it makes sense. In order to truly listen, we must be silent. Not just silent verbally but silent with our internal dialogue as well. I don’t know about you, but my worst communication pitfall is that I stop listening about half way through and am already formulating the “perfect solution” before my kids have even finished their sentence!! Pretty annoying, not to mention counterproductive.
When our kids face challenges – and moving to a new home is in the top five – we want to comfort them and, gosh darn it, just make it all go away. If only our “perfect solution” was one-size-fits-all. The reality is what works for us to reduce stress won’t necessarily work for anyone else. We want our kids to talk to us about it but first we have to be willing to be excellent listeners…no small feat!
When our bundles of joy arrive, we begin the adventure of parenting by making every single decision for them - when to eat, when to sleep, when to change the diaper. As our kids grow and develop, so must our parenting grow and change with them. We let go of more so they can learn, flourish and grow. But letting go doesn’t mean being out of the loop. In order to develop social and emotional competence, our children need coaching and guidance from us. Communication is one of the cornerstones of social and emotional competence.
Kids generally communicate in short bursts and our job is to pull the pieces of the puzzle together by asking questions – not interrogating, but discovery. When your kids come to you to talk, make sure you DEAL with it – Drop Everything And Listen. There is no doubt that moving is challenging and there are a million little details. Stop and listen, really listen, and think before responding. As humans, we’re not always comfortable with silence during conversations. As parents, we sometimes feel compelled to have all the answers immediately. Pausing and thinking before responding communicates to your child that what they said was important and worth your extra time.
Kids need to feel safe in order to express the sometimes inexpressible. Your child may say something to you that pushes all your buttons, makes you want to refute it, or makes you want to pull your hair out. Please refrain. Try reflecting emotion…”That sound (insert feeling word here).” The more our kids can begin to recognize and name their emotions, the better they can learn to deal with them and what causes them. (For more on this, see the blog post “Who’s Naming Names?”)
Role modeling appropriate behaviors is a critical piece of teaching our children about effective communication, thereby building social and emotional competence. Eye contact, turn-taking, and not interrupting are all skills even adults have some difficulty with! For shy children, eye contact may be very difficult. Parents can help children who find it difficult to make eye contact by role playing using a puppet or stuffed animal. Kids often find it easier to look Pookie Bear in the eye rather than a peer or an adult. In addition, parents can have their shy child make eye contact and talk to him or herself in the mirror to practice this skill.
Taking turns during play time is something kids learn practically from birth! But taking turns in conversation is a little more subtle and harder to master. Kids need to practice reading the verbal and non-verbal signals of the speaker. Again, role playing can be an effective way to teach children to recognize facial changes, tone of voice and brief pauses in conversation that signal opportunities to jump in and give their two cents.
For more communication tips for parents, visit the American Psychological Association’s website here.
No parent should move without a written game plan. For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.