How do you communicate at home? Have you wondered how families can become close-knit? And also marvelled at how some families sit in silence while being glued to their mobile phones at mealtimes? Or do your children prefer to talk to their peers while awkwardly quiet when with you? Perhaps the situation at home is not ideal, thus leaving you with a lingering guilt of not knowing how to communicate or relate to your child.
How do families communicate for better relationships? If you have a healthy relationship with your child, laugh more than you yell (at each other), congratulations! It is rarely easy building a good relationship with mini editions of yourselves. Most of the time, we tend to be impatient or even easily frustrated especially when the little ones are testing their boundaries. Despite the challenges, it is important to nurture a positive parent-child relationship that encourages communication, trust and openness for strong family bonds. We need to understand our children’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour to be able to guide them. This also reduces the likelihood of them finding solace in the wrong company or getting led astray by their peers or even groomers/strangers.
If you think your throats have become sore from nagging and unpleasant exchanges, I hope some of these tips can help you to communicate more effectively to your children.
Be present and observe
Is your child creating a masterpiece? Are the children playing peaceably? Is he or she finally being quiet and attempting to focus on a task? Being silently present and observing your child can help you see what they are doing and pay close attention to how they play.
Your response will reflect your observations and will tell the child that you are watching, listening and truly interested in them. Start by saying “Wow!” or “Tell me more” and even “I’d love to know how you did that”. Your words are very important to your children and will make them feel cherished. By encouraging them to share more, they feel important and included in the family. It starts with a loving and respectful culture that helps the children to communicate.
Very often, parents tend to dive into their chores or continue the conversations on their mobile phones once they are home. How about just sitting next to your child for a change? You might observe some traits that would surprise you.
Think about something both your child and you would enjoy. Perhaps it’s trying a new recipe, a new game or TV show, doodling or even learning a new sport together. Finding an activity to do together helps bond parent and child. When there’s more fun, there tends to be less friction.
As a mother of two rambunctious boys, I have trouble comprehending the amount of booger and action hero playtime in their lives. Connecting to them can be difficult at times, hence I have to consciously remember their likes and preferences rather than focus on what I think they should be doing. I’ve since learnt some strategies of Battleship, figured out the names of Ninjago characters, read many books about chivalry and knighthood, and finally concluded that booger is a type of sustenance.
So find that sweet spot, and build more memories with your child. Those moments of parent and child bonding will last a lifetime.
Harp on the positive
Praising and encouraging does not come so natural to me, having been raised in a strict “tiger mum” environment. But I’ve come to learn that saying positive things is so essential to building up the children rather than tearing them down. When you are on the verge of yelling, point out something positive before correcting them. For example “Wow! That is a very tall block you built! Now that you’ve had some fun, how about helping to clean up the rest of the bricks?” or “You’re spending a lot of effort on that project, I’m proud that you persevered. Shall we try to do some (math) practice too?”
As a well-meaning parent, we often see the tasks done imperfectly. But considering that children are very young beings, we should adjust our expectations and encourage their often-enthusiastic attitudes. During kitchen “experiments” for example, I often find eggshells in the pancake batter because of little hands attempting to help. Instead of frowning in disapproval, I try to demonstrate and encourage the child to practise. Affirming the child’s attitude help to nurture a constructive environment which encourages the child to share and speak up, especially when they need help. This culture would be helpful in future especially in challenging times.
Acceptance and love
Each phase of your children’s life has its own challenges. While the intensity of care varies, a common denominator in all the life stages is unconditional love and acceptance. We must extend this same love even during temper tantrums, defiance and the worst behaviours. This means, even if our children are not ready to communicate, we should, as much as possible, affirm our love and wait for them to calm down before attempting to connect. Some children take a long time to cool down, and all they need is someone to sit next to them to remind them of their very presence. This helps them to feel safe, secure and that you are someone to trust and rely on.
Accepting does not mean ignoring flaws and misbehaviours. It means addressing them with love and empathy, rather than shame and criticism. For instance, we all have fussy eaters at the dining table, and they show displeasure in what was graciously presented before them. Instead of reprimanding them for being ungrateful (which I am prone to do), try a dose of empathy. “I see that it’s hard for you to eat the food since you didn’t like the taste the last time. But I’d like to see you try some again, you might find the taste different today.” By acknowledging the child’s struggle and providing a suggestion of how he or she can handle the situation, it communicates acceptance and love.
Put Yourself in the Child’s Shoes
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This famous novel tells of how a father taught his children to be empathetic, especially those who are marginalised. Similarly, if we’d like our child to communicate with us more often, we need to understand their perspectives instead of judging them. For instance, if your child is facing a problem, listen to the problem in its entirety or give him/her time to tell you. Then, put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to understand his/her emotions and possible actions before giving advice, if needed. It could be difficult trying to do so as an adult when we deem ourselves “wiser” with more experience.
I overheard a child once lamenting about how her father refused to listen to her ideas for a school project, and that he insisted on using his own “better” ideas. In the end, the child did not submit her project because she felt no sense of ownership. If we desired for a different outcome, we need to respect the views of our child and hear them out before assuming that our views are far more superior. Sometimes, a child’s wisdom exceeds ours!
Communication is vital
Thomas Edison once said this of his mother,
“She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
Edison’s mother made such an impact on him that he became one of the most famous inventors of all time. Good communication is the heart of happy homes and a key ingredient in a healthy parent-child relationship. Previously, we talked about how parents tend to react instead of respond to the situation, and in that moment, we failed to understand the child from his/her perspective. In my observations of close-knit families, I often see a lot of open communication using various channels even when family members are physically apart.
Effective communication provides a place your child can thrive and grow from. This also forms the basis of effective communication with others as your child grows. It might be challenging to change how we listen and speak. As with all other skills, practice works! Don’t worry about making mistakes, keep trying. We all learn to be better at communicating with every attempt.