By Donald Saunders
Communication is a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives and, within the family setting, it is vital for parents to learn to communicate effectively with their children. This is not always as easy as you might think and there is certainly a right way and a wrong way to approach the subject.
One of the biggest problems we face with communication in general is that people vary so widely in so many different areas that there is no single way to communicate with others which will fit everyone in all circumstances. This means that there is no simple rule of communication which we can learn and apply. However, studies, together with many years of experience, do show that there are a few methods of communicating which are generally effective and which work better than others.
The first and most important rule in communicating with our children is honesty. Children are not stupid and they will very quickly spot a situation in which they are being lied to.
Now this doesn’t imply that you must answer every question that is put to you in a totally frank and open manner. There are some things that your children don’t need to know, and indeed shouldn’t know, and you have your own right to privacy. How much information you share with your children will depend upon their age, their ability to understand the information being imparted, their level of genuine interest in the information and your own level of comfort in sharing such information. The secret however is to share that information with your children as and when it is appropriate, but not to evade the issue by attempting to lie your way out of it.
The second important rule of communication is to pick the right time to communicate with your children. For example, let’s suppose that you are concerned about recent behavior with regard to other people’s property and feel that your children need to understand that they have to respect other people’s belongings.
Simply sitting them down and talking to them about the problem would be one option, but it is unlikely to have the impact you would wish for. However, waiting a while and watching for an example of the problem to arise outside of the family could yield excellent results. Witnessing an example on the television or while out shopping could provide just the right moment to open a discussion on the issue, perhaps along the lines of, “Hey, did you see what he just did?” and then inviting the child’s comments with something like, “What do you think of that then?”
The important point here is that the issue becomes the subject of a relevant discussion within a real life context in which the child has the opportunity to express his or her point of view, as well as discovering what you think about the issue. The child will benefit far more from this approach than from a simple ‘lecture’ on the subject.
The third secret to good communication with your children is that of listening. Communication is very much a two way process and it’s often easy to forget this fact.
One of the biggest problems in many households arises out of what children views as hypocrisy. A case of parents saying one thing and doing another, or telling children to behave in a certain manner while doing just the opposite themselves. The problem however is that, while the children see this and interpret the parents actions in this manner, the parents themselves don’t always spot the problem.
Children see a great deal and are affected by everything that goes on around them but, unless you take the time to listen to them, how can you ever know what they are thinking and how they are feeling.
An excellent approach is often referred to as ‘Stop, look and listen’ and it is extremely effective. If one of your children needs to speak to you then stop what you’re doing, look at the child and listen while he or she speaks. Giving your children your clear attention sends a powerful signal to them that you are interested in hearing what they have to say and that their thoughts, views and opinions are valued.
These are just a few of the basic rules of parental communication but they are extremely important and should form the foundation on which you build your own method of effective communication with your children.
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