How to Set up a Healthy Communication Channel With Your Children
Eating vegetables. Bedtime. Chores. Curfew. Social issues. Disagreements between children and parents are inevitable, because kids are developing and testing their boundaries. They’re becoming more independent. That’s a good thing.
However, you don’t want disagreements turning into conflicts. Good communication helps prevent that. You won’t always agree, but after all, you’re raising your kids to think for themselves. Start exchanging ideas with your children while they’re very young. Then, as they grow up, you already have a process in place.
Communication begins at infancy. As kids develop, the methods change, but the back-and-forth shouldn’t. You’ll need different communication styles at different ages:
- Infants communicate by crying, but they also use their eyes, faces, trunks, arms and legs. Listen and respond verbally. It’s the beginning of conversation.
- Toddlers start using words. Take your child’s phrases and expand upon them.
- Preschoolers love to talk, so make sure to ask questions. They’re understanding emotions better, so talk about feelings.
- By the time they enter school, kids chat up a storm. They’re also out of your eyesight more. Keep talking about what’s going on in their lives so you stay in the loop.
- If you give them the chance, teens will converse. You may not love all the topics. Some will be critical of you and your beliefs. Be willing to talk. Openness in sensitive areas helps promote conversation about all parts of teens’ lives.
Learn more about kids and parents:
Listen a Lot
It seems obvious: Encourage kids to talk by listening to them. In the day-to-day reality, however, finding time isn’t always easy. Plus, listening to children chatter can be exhausting. The payoff, though, is huge. When kids are little you may hear all about their toys, but when they’re older you’ll be privy to their struggles and worries.
This is about communication, not lecture. Don’t make kids feel like you’re always telling them what to do. You’ll get complaints, not substance. From an early age, ask for opinions whenever possible. Keep it going as they grow: “What do you want to drink, milk or water?” “Would you rather ride bikes or go to the playground?” “What do you think about the presidential election?
Questions can really get conversations going. Most people – not just kids – like to share. Just make sure the questions are real and not directions camouflaged by question marks. For instance, when it’s bedtime, don’t ask, “Are you getting tired yet?” A valid answer is “No”… and then where will you be? You have to enforce lights out anyway, and you ignored your child’s input. Just say, “Time for bed.”
Ask open-ended questions you care about. If the topic is important, don’t settle for a simple yes or no. It’s fine for a question like, “Do you need another blanket tonight?” However, if you want to know what’s happening at school, you won’t learn much by asking, “Do you like school?” Questions such as “What do you like about school?” or even “What don’t you like about school?” are more likely to open conversational doors.
Sandstone Care youth treatment expert Martha Gilbert encourages parents to follow these five rules when starting difficult conversations with children:
- Pick the right time, place and tone. For instance, serious conversations with adolescents should be private and unhurried
- Be honest. This sets a good example.
- Share knowledge and promote empowerment. Encourage your children to make decisions based on information, not assumptions or guesswork.
- Be clear and firm. Let kids know your boundaries. Encourage them to create boundaries when peers pressure them.
- Help children build healthy communities. Support beneficial choices and activities. Be familiar with your kids’ friends and their families.
Take Your Time
When topics are more serious, model thoughtful behavior. It’s OK not to have an immediate reply. Teach your kids that thinking is a part of conversation. Actually say the words: “I want to think about that awhile.” The first idea that pops into your head isn’t always what should come out of your mouth. That’s a lesson everyone needs reinforced now and then.
Keep Your Cool
Sometimes you get angry with your kids. That’s normal. You need to talk about their inappropriate choices and behaviors. If you can’t stay calm, postpone the conversation a bit. Yelling, threats and put-downs don’t encourage children to communicate. When you’re mad, it might be time to play the “I need to think about this a bit” card. You’re not copping out. You’re actually using – and modeling – restraint, carefulness and consideration.
Kids start to talk at a young age and don’t really want to stop. The trick is getting them to talk to you. It’s not out of reach. You just have to be a good conversational partner.
Anum Yoon is a personal finance writer who is dedicated to sharing her insights on money management with others. She believes that a greener, energy-efficient lifestyle is the key to living a more fulfilling life. When she’s not typing away on her keyboard, you can find her poring over a new recipe she found on Pinterest or at the power rack in her gym. Catch her on Twitter or sign up for her newsletter here to find out what she’s sharing!