Communication is key to modern life in many ways. The better you are at communicating with others, the better your relationships will be. It’s pretty simple. And yet, sometimes, you may have communication issues with your kids. The problem might not be with you at all, however. It might be that you’re communicating in a way that’s simply not getting through to them.
Think back to your own childhood. How did you learn to listen? When you were a child, how did you learn to really listen to what your mom or dad were saying to you? Not just listen, but comprehend.
When you were sitting in the backseat of your parents’ car and heard them arguing, how did you learn to listen with understanding so that you could do the right thing when you got inside the house after you got home from school?
Communication styles vary widely from person to person, based on upbringing, gender, family dynamics and countless other factors. But there are universal skills that you can use to make sure that you’re communicating effectively with your children.
Here are some ways that you can facilitate better communication with your children:
Before you speak, think.
Children are very perceptive people and most can spot when you’re fishing for an answer to your question. Instead of asking them a question, count to ten. Take a deep breath. Think about what you’re really trying to ask. The words you use and the tone in which you ask is important. You want to be getting the right message to your child. So, it’s very helpful to think about what you’re going to say.
Listen with your own ears and eyes.
If your child is angry about something, he or she could be more apt to tell you why if you nod your head and say something back. The thing is, you don’t need to deliver a long-winded response. Where does your child stand? What are your child’s wishes? Be careful. If your kid is angry, he or she is probably not listening. Your child could get confused if you ask a lot of questions in response to what you’re hearing. And, the answers won’t really matter because your child will see you as a facilitator of their outburst and not as a genuine listener.
Let your child finish what he or she is saying.
It’s very common for parents to interrupt their children while they’re talking. And, it’s really easy to do. It’s okay to ask your child if they want a drink of water, or if you can wipe their face, or if you can help them clean up a mess. But, when you’re listening to your child, let them finish what they’re saying. You’ll get more information that way, and you’ll give your child the opportunity to finish their sentence.
Pinpoint a problem.
If your child has a problem, try to pinpoint the problem. If it’s homework, let your child talk about the homework. But, don’t let the discussion hover around homework. Ask your child if there’s a bigger problem. Are they lonely? Are they frustrated? Are they bored? Why are they angry? Get to the root of why they’re angry. Ask them if they need help. Then, try to find a solution.
Let them talk until they’re finished.
If your child starts talking, let him or her talk until they’re finished. There’s a fine line here. It’s okay to ask clarifying questions. It’s okay to ask them to clarify where they stand. But, don’t interrupt them.
If something is happening at school, let your child tell you about it. Just listen without interrupting. When you interrupt them, you interrupt what they’re saying and you might get the wrong answer. Your child will feel like he or she is being interrogated, and your child will not want to talk to you.
When your child asks you a question, be as honest as you can. Sometimes, if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” But, when you do know the answer, be honest with your kids. You can tell a white lie, but make sure that you’re explicit about the fact that you’re telling a white lie. Be honest, but be straightforward. You don’t want to add to the confusion of your child.
Use facial expressions.
The tone in which you’re speaking is important to your child, but so is your facial expression. Are you looking your child in the eye? Are you making a connection with them? Are you making eye contact? If you’re raising your voice, your child will get scared and stop listening. In addition, when your child sees your facial expression, he or she will know if you’re being honest or if you’re lying.
Try to memorize your child’s “tells.”
“Tells” are what they’re called in the poker playing world. You can notice your child’s tells in poker playing. If your child is nervous about something, or if your child is trying to conceal the truth about something, he or she might give you a tell.
A tell is a facial expression or a body language cue that gives away the truth about what’s really on your child’s mind. After a while, your child might not even be aware that he or she is revealing the truth, so be aware of your child’s facial expressions and physical reactions. If your child shows tells that he or she is lying, ask them a more specific question.
Teach your child to rephrase your question.
It’s very common for kids to answer questions with an “uh huh,” or “yeah,” or “that” or “okay.” It’s a way of communicating that doesn’t require much thought. But, it’s still a way of communicating. You can train your child to rephrase your questions. Instead of saying, “yeah,” or “that’s it,” or “uh huh,” they can say, “I understand.” “What you’re saying is…” “I agree.” “What you’re saying is so true.”
Repeat what they’re saying.
When you spend time with your child, you’ll know that sometimes he or she might feel like you don’t understand them. Because of that, it’s very common for children to repeat themselves.
If you practice this whole concept of listening with your entire body, including your face and your eye contact, you’ll get better at it. Tell your child that it’s okay to repeat himself or herself. You understand that they might be trying to tell you something and you want to try to figure out what they’re telling you.
If your child is telling you that he or she is angry, and you don’t know where your child stands emotionally, or you’re not agreeing with your child, find out why your child is saying “yeah” to everything you’re saying. You can try to repeat the questions that you’re asking your child and make sure that you’re getting the right answers.
Then, look for the tells. Are you getting any of them? If so, ask your child to clarify what he or she’s saying. Maybe he or she isn’t saying “yeah” because they agree with you. Maybe they’re saying “yeah” because they’re just trying to placate you. They’re trying to get you off their back.
It’s easy to spot communication problems with your children. And, it’s very easy to correct them. Start with a few sessions of pausing before you speak. Think about what you’re asking your child. Think about the tone in which you’re asking the question. Don’t let your child interrupt you. Let your child finish what he or she is saying.
Listen to what your child says. Let your child talk until he or she’s finished. Use your facial expressions to convey honesty and integrity. Don’t interrupt your child. If you repeat your child’s words, he or she will know that you heard him or her.
If your child feels like they’re not being listened to, they’re going to get frustrated. You might get frustrated, too, because you might not get the right answer. You might get the wrong answer. And, if you don’t get a lot of data, you’re not really going to be able to come up with a solution and you’re not really going to be able to solve the problem.
It’s really important to have good, solid communication with your children. And, if you don’t, you can start improving that communication by paying attention to your child. Think about what your child is saying. Think about his or her feelings and then, reflect them back to your child.
How can we improve communication in families? Come to our Facebook group and let us know what you think!