February brings us Valentine’s Day. That makes it a perfect time to work on developing a loving relationship with our children. Learning to communicate with each other will strengthen family relationships, especially during the teenage years.
Not only is communication important for families, it should be the foundation. Good family communication helps develop trust and builds respect between members of the family. It will make it easier to solve conflicts and face the many challenges thrown at today’s families. By teaching your children good communication techniques today they will have the lifetime tools needed to communicate with others outside the home.
Talking is not always the best communication. Babies cannot speak words but can certainly talk to us. Nonverbal communication can be very powerful. Whereas we all know a “motor mouth” may have very little to say. It is often said the best communicator is not the speaker, but the best listener. We need to listen with both ears, with eye contact and with our full attention.
As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. They learn by watching and listening to us, so we must set a good example. I once had a friend tell me she video taped a conversation with her son who was always “talking back” to her. She was surprised that when reviewing the tape she was guilty of making all the common mistakes that cut off communication, especially with teens. In the 15 minute “argument,” they threatened, lectured, interrupted, gave advice, criticized, and presumed. The father said if their son had not walked out, he was sure they would have committed the six cardinal mistakes that block communication such as labeling, preaching, giving orders, distracting, being a know-it-all, and belittling his son.
We can all change if we really want to badly enough. After all, we are expecting our child to change, aren’t we? No one drives us up the wall unless we allow it to happen. As a parent educator, I often hear parents moan, “Why won’t my child talk to me? But I also hear the other side from the children asking, “Why won’t my parents listen to me?”
So what can we do to communicate better? Take time to discover your children. A very important way to build a relationship is to ask questions about their activities, feelings and interests. Try to understand their point of view. Remember what it was like at their age. Let them know you care about their feelings even if they are different than yours. Sounds easy? You say you already do that. Do you really take the time to sit down next to them, with eyes and ears opened and uninterrupted by the television, computers or cell phones? This can be the hardest part as today’s families are busy and always on the go. Many families complain they cannot even find time to eat a meal together. News flash: You need to make it happen before it is too late.
Send clear and encouraging messages. It is amazing how many adults, after something tragic happens in their family, report they thought their children “knew” the rules. Your tone of voice and body language needs to set the mood. Let them know you are listening. Look at your child’s face. Don’t make it about you. Stay with the child’s ideas. A young child’s story may go on and on and get twisted up. But stay with them, they will learn through you how to get better at expressing their feelings and ideas.
Many families find unique ways to enhance their communication. One family I worked with used a “mailbox” idea. Each family had a folder with their name on it and others could leave them messages throughout the week. When my children were younger they made an appointment to talk with us on an erasable magnetic calendar on the refrigerator. I knew from the color of ink which child needed the attention. As they grew older they loved “post-a-notes.” I would find them in my purse, in my day planner or on the bathroom mirror. It actually became a game trying to find a new place to leave the note. I would return the notes in their school books, room, in their shoes or other creative places. One time my daughter’s friend sent me a note asking if I would send her a post-a-note as she was struggling by a typical teen issue and signed it with a smiley face. Fourteen years later I still have that note to remind me to think out of the box when working with teens and young children.
Communication is the bridge between you and your children. It is a way for you to share love and teach appropriate behavior. To honor St Valentine, make some hearts from red paper or pink paper and write positive sayings such as: wow, outstanding, way to go, terrific, much better, very nice, etc. Pass them to each other. Use stickers. Yes this can be used with boys too. Just decorate the hearts with basketballs, footballs, etc.
Every time you give a love message, you have made a change. You will be glad you took the time.
News Release provided by Kathy Green.