I’m not a parenting expert. I don’t even play one on TV. I may occasionally start talking like I know it all and the next the day my kids put me back in my place by defying all acceptable codes of behaviour.
Now that my boys are teenagers I can see one particular area where I might deserve a gold star.
It’s important that my kids know they can talk to me about anything.
I never felt that way growing up. It’s sad to read my old diaries from age 10 to 18.
I lied and kept secrets. I snuck around behind my mother’s back. I didn’t feel I had anyone I could talk to.
I don’t want my own kids to feel that way.
So I’ve always been an open book with them. I share how I’m feeling, the ups and downs of my day and stories of my childhood so they realise I was once a kid too and I remember what it was like.
I’ve told them to preface tricky conversations with, ‘I want to tell you something but I don’t want you to get mad’, which gives me a chance to take a deep breath and listen without getting mad.
And they seem to tell me what’s going on in their lives.
A good relationship with your child gets you through the hard times and creates more good times. The more connected you are with your child, the more tuned-in you become. You’ll notice the signs if something’s wrong. The more connected they feel to you, the more they’ll open up to you.
Children who feel a special connection with their parents are more likely to see them as being on their side rather than against them. This comes in very handy in the teenage years, believe me.
My Top 4 Tips for Building Close Communication With Your Child
1. Truly listen.
Listening builds trust. The more your child feels they can talk to you about anything the better. If a child feels cut-off too often or afraid to ask questions, the chances of them opening up to you later will be slim.
Keep the door to communication wide open now so when they become teenagers (and the door naturally closes more), there’ll still be a crack left open for you to get inside.
Show interest when your child speaks to you. This means looking up from your phone, computer, newspaper, the TV. Older children and teens are particularly put off talking when they don’t feel they have your full attention.
2. Ask questions and share.
Ask questions which require more than a one-word response. ‘How was your day?’ is only going to elicit a one-word answer. ‘Who did you play with today?’ or “How was that science test? Was it as hard as you thought it would be?” gives more scope for a real conversation. Don’t ask the same questions every day.
Share about your own day. Our kids are in their own world and don’t usually think about what we’ve been up to. Talk about it in an upbeat tone so it doesn’t turn into a ‘who’s had the worse day’ competition.
Be open to what they say. Press pause on your reaction if you don’t like what you hear. Don’t turn every conversation into a lecture. Resist pushing or prodding for information.
If you’re overly involved in solving their problems for them or turning small things into big issues, they may not come to you if they’re facing peer pressure or are in trouble. They need to trust that you won’t steam in and make things worse.
3. Eat as many meals together as possible.
As your child grows older and homework, friendships and extracurricular activities take over, having regular family meals brings you together.
Turn off the TV and establish a ‘no electronics at meal times’ policy. That includes you.
Squabbles are a normal part of family meals and are not a sign that you’re in a dysfunctional household. Think of it as a continuous opportunity to improve debating skills!
Sitting down and sharing an after school snack is another opportunity to have a chat about how your days went.
In restaurants, ban electronic devices. It’s sad to see families sitting together, but absorbed in their own separate worlds instead of talking. If conversation is stilted, play a communication game to get it flowing. (see below)
4. Play communication games.
Fink Communication Cards are fun, thought-provoking question cards designed to get families talking. They’re great for starting conversations, learning about each other and helping children to positively improve their communication skills.
There’s a wonderful ‘Mums Edition’ with the pack split in half – some questions for your child to ask you, the others for you to ask your child. They’ve also got a set designed especially for Teens who might be going through that mono-symbolic grunting stage.
There are loads of other packs to choose from, such as Conversations for the Early Years (for ages 2-7), Dealing With Dyslexia, and Talking About Divorce. Fink are based in the UK and ship to anywhere in the world. (Click here to see the whole selection!)
Another game our family plays in restaurants is one my younger son made up called The Michael Jackson Game.
One person starts and says ‘Michael Jackson’. The person to their left has to name any famous person alive or dead who’s first name begins with J (for Jackson). Play passes around clockwise with the next person using the first letter of the previous last name. Example, Johnny Depp could be followed by David Beckham, then followed by Bradley Cooper. (Quite a fantasy line-up…) Lady Gaga could be followed by George Bush. You get the idea. If a double letter appears (Janet Jackson, Steven Spielberg) or someone goes by one name (Madonna, Bono) it reverses play to counterclockwise. (A bit like the reverse card in Uno.)
It’s easier for adults as we know more famous people, but when the kids don’t know someone we’ve said (Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill) it gives us a chance to talk about who they are. (And debate about whether they’re alive or dead!) And if parents don’t know the pop singer, YouTube star or athlete the kids have said, we learn something new too. Gotta be down with the kids!
We play until the food comes, then stop. For younger ones there’s always I Spy With My Little Eye, something….. red. Or something that begins with ‘c’.
Keep the communication flowing everyone!
In the comments below, please let me know which of these tips you’re already using or want to start doing. Also, share your own tips and thoughts on building close communication with your child.
You can read about What Parenting Skills Classes Did To My Family here.
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