Family: how to start good communication with your kids.
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Good communication with children involves listening well and talking in ways that encourage your child to listen to you. It’s like any other skill – you get better with practice.
Some children need a lot of encouragement and positive feedback to get talking. Others will be desperate to talk with you when you’re busy doing something else. This might mean stopping what you’re doing to listen.
These are some of the ways you can start a good communication with your child.
Create talking rituals.
Observe your child’s conversational style. You’ve heard about learning or attentional styles, but our kids have hard-wired conversational styles that don’t change much. One child may be a lively morning talker. Another is barely human before the bus arrives, but after school, it’s no-holds-barred banter. One of your children likes a lot of back and forth, another needs to talk at a slower pace, a third can’t tolerate questions. The key to openness is to not change what is unchangeable, but instead to respect natural times and ways of talking. Build what I call “talking rituals” around them: 15 minutes of driving together or downtime side-by-side in the evening may be all you need to make that connection.
Talk during the in-betweens.
What were you doing the last time you had a good conversation with your child? I know the answers: walking or driving to school, baking together, bath time, and, of course, bedtime. These times and activities loosen tongues because parent and child aren’t looking at each other. In fact, we are in a parallel position. Most of us think talking is supposed to be about relating deeply, but kids actually open up in the middle of doing other things, during what I refer to as the “in-betweens” of life.
Be a person
Respond to your child with real emotion. Don’t go over the top with reactions, but don’t be a therapist either. Nodding one’s head, naming feelings, and reflecting back is terrific when kids are extremely young or upset or sick or scared. But for the everyday tracking, we need to stay in touch with their lives, it is far better to respond like an actual person. “Are you kidding me, Michael did what to Earnest?” “I love what you said to Jenny, it touches my heart.” After all, don’t genuine responses make you want to share more too?
Encourage emotional literacy
Help your kids tell the story. We focus on academics, but our kids also need to be emotionally literate, able to tell a story from beginning to end. Problems are better solved when one can articulate them to another person and people find solutions together. I know, kids take so long to get to this point and schedules must be followed. But slow down for two minutes to ask action questions: “Who was there? What did they say? What happened next?” These help your child feel heard and show you are interested in the whole story. “Love is focused interest,” it has been said, and our kids can tell when we are interested in the story.
Pay attention to the superficial. “You lost quarters under the vending machine. What year were they?” often leads to the real scoop.
The trivial is where kids live; they get scared off when we delve for deeper feelings, as in “How did that make you feel?” So, commit to the superficial, and more often than not the trivial will lead to what’s really going on.
It’s hard to believe, but our precocious 21st Century kids of all ages still crave direction. After the story, after you’ve responded, then discuss together how your child might handle the situation differently next time. Powerful advice means recognizing your own limits to help kids make decisions without you. Tell them, “I can’t be there to make the decision about sharing that toy or sharing that secret with Joanne, but here’s what I think will happen.” When children know where you stand, they feel closer to you and more willing to open up.