10 tips to improve communication with your child or teen
We may talk using words, but our looks, gestures and actions - and even our silences - also convey a message to our children. Here I reflect on some of the best ways to open up communication with your child, whether a tiny tot or a tremendous teen!
Avoid expressing frustration
Though we’re tempted to say things like, "I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall!" or "Why don’t you talk to me anymore?" when we’re frustrated with our kids, it’s far more effective (though challenging at times!) to come from a place of love and acceptance.
The fundamental message of a parent
It can be expressed in many ways, but as a parent the essence of what you want to communicate is this:
"You are my child... I love you and want to help you in any way I can. I’m struggling to understand you. What do you need from me?"
10 ways to communicate better
At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone, and you are best placed to help him/her. Below are some pointers to guide you on your way.
These tips are especially useful if you lead a mobile lifestyle, as having meaningful chats with your child during times of transition will help deepen your relationship, meaning you’ll both feel stronger.
1. Listen more than you talk
As philosopher Epictetus once said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."
2. Empathise with the child and his/her message.
Avoid giving instant solutions to your child. Advice can come later, when/if they ask for it.
3. Show acceptance
Clearly communicate acceptance of the child and what they are trying to say.
4. Talk with your child, rather than at him/her
Facilitate a two-way conversation, rather than giving a lecture. Children of all ages want to be understood, not preached to. They are also far more likely to take your advice on board if they have felt included in the conversation.
5. Request, don’t demand
Requests are best made in a simple, positive, one- or two-step process. Do not demand… ask kindly and with respect.
6. Treat your child as an equal
Communicate with your children at eye level, rather than from above. Take a seat together, or crouch down with young ones. This way the communication is both less threatening and more supportive.
7. Discuss change openly
If you are raising Third Culture Kids - children who are growing up outside of their parents’ home culture(s) - make sure you discuss each move with your child and prepare them for it.
It’s also crucial to remind your teen that friendship and love are never gone; their loved ones from a previous country or school are always there.
Your teen can still communicate via email, Skype, telephone, etc. Encourage your teen to take advantage of online technology.
8. Reflect on your actions
Reflect on the following (for best results do this daily):
› In my interactions with my child today, did I give him/her a feeling of being accepted and valued?
› How did I connect with my child today? Did I open doors of communication or lose opportunities to do so?
› What will I do tomorrow to keep our communication open and strong?
9. Gather knowledge
Look around you for information and resources to increase your awareness of great parenting techniques. Remember there is no perfect parent, child, or family. We all do our best with what we know.
Here are some excellent books to start with:
› How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
› How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk, also by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
› Choices: A Calm and Punishment-Free Way to Raise Happy and Confident Children, by Robbie Zein
› Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by Ruth E. Van Reken and David C. Pollock
10. Remind yourself
Regularly remind yourself of all the above steps so you fully grasp and implement them.
Which of the above tips have worked for you? Feel free also to share your own communication tips in the comments below.
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