Communicating is an art. It is a learned skill. There are many ways to communicate, however for the purpose of this discussion we are going to focus on the verbal form of communicating.
Verbal communication is generally defined as the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and opinions through the process of speaking and listening. Communication is the glue that “connects” two people.
The art of communicating takes place when a thought, idea, or opinion is put forth toward another person and that person listens and “hears” what was said.
Therapists and counselors will tell you without hesitation the most important aspect of any relationship is communication.
Each day people will experience something that will affect them. It can be something small or something big. Regardless of its magnitude, it will on some level change the person. Our experiences can reinforce an idea or opinion we already have, or they can open our minds to see something in a different way. It can be something we have never experienced before. Our experiences are the catalyst for our growth.
Sharing these experiences and their effects is what builds and strengthens relationships. When we share what is going on inside our minds we are sharing “who” we are at that moment in time. We are sharing what differentiates us from each other. Our thoughts, opinions, and ideas are the ingredients of our uniqueness.
There are times when it is appropriate to just listen and not respond. In some situations, people simply have the need to have what they are thinking heard and not responded to. Being able to make that distinction is what makes communication an art form. Knowing when to respond and when not to, is learned through experience. Paying attention to the person while he is speaking and watching for clues will tell you whether they are looking for your opinion or just needing a sounding board.
The relationship between a parent and child works the same way. Communicating with your child is what will determine the type of relationship you will share. On going communication is what will allow the relationship to deepen and strengthen.
In today’s society parents are often so busy they forget the need to consciously cultivate a relationship with their children. It is certainly not a lack of desire; they are generally placing most of their time and energy into providing for their children.
At the end of the day, they are grateful that they have been able to provide the necessities in life and devote even a small amount of time to just being with their children.
Too often, the type of relationship they have with their children is not usually examined until a problem surfaces.
It is critical to immediately, regardless of the age of your children, begin to create a relationship built on communication rather than to wait until there is a problem.
So often when a child becomes a teenager, we hear parents say they have no idea what is going on with their child. They complain that they don’t understand them and most definitely are not in agreement with the choices they see them making.
It is devastating when this reality is the result of a choice that has life-changing consequences, such as drugs, pregnancy or even suicide.
As with most things, the responsibility of teaching children to communicate lies with the parent.
Parents need to “steer” their relationship toward a bonding that includes a mutual respect and sharing of thoughts and ideas and opinions.
The most effective tool parents have to teach their children to communicate is to teach by example. In addition to your children witnessing you communicate with other people; we have two exercises that you can use to help you establish communication with your children.
The first grew out of a tradition that many families practice at Thanksgiving. Our family, like many others, goes around the dinner table and shares something we are thankful for.
Because we lead a busy hectic life, as most families do, time has always been an issue for us. With work schedules and children’s activities, a major goal for us has always been to have more quality time. We wanted time where we could connect with our children and get to know what was “going on” with them and in their lives.
So we decided to practice the “thankful” ritual on a daily basis, or at least as often as possible.
At breakfast or dinner, depending on when we are all together, we begin by sharing something we are grateful for. To encourage the children to put thought into what they are grateful for, we decided that it needed to be something besides what we call “the obvious”…….family, home, friends, food etc.
This almost always opens the lines of communication and leads us to great conversations. Children love to be the center of attention and to be listened to!
An alert parent can very cleverly turn most topics into “teachable moments.”
The second idea is something that has proven to be extremely valuable. We set up a forum in which my grandchildren can use their power, explore their identity as an individual, and gain the experience of being part of a group where people have different opinions and thoughts.
This platform has been the birthplace of a lot of character building conversations.
Many years ago we established “the family meeting” concept. It began as a way to encourage them to voice their feelings when they were very young. Over the years, it has developed into much more.
The rules are simple:
Anyone in our family has the right to call a family meeting.
The meeting can be to discuss, request, or share anything they feel is important to them.
They are given the opportunity to speak freely without fear of reprisal.
All others respectfully listen.
All other family members are given the opportunity to respond.
If it is a situation that affects the entire family and a decision is required, a vote is taken in which majority rules.
During our family meetings, we often find the opportunity for many teachable moments. Through these meetings, our children gain a sense that their thoughts and feelings are important and valuable.
It gives us the opportunity to stay on top of what is going on in their lives and in their minds. We are able to address anything that could lead to negative programming, unhealthy choices, or limiting beliefs.
Additionally, we have found that when a situation arises that requires conversation and we cannot address it at that particular moment due to time restraints, the children understand that it is on the agenda for the next available time for a family meeting. Knowing this, they feel that although they could not be “heard” right then, their feelings and thoughts are valued and they will be heard as soon as possible. This adds the lesson of patience as well as the fact that even though they are not the center of attention, they are important.
We have examined the importance of communication as well as suggesting activities to promote communication with your children.
Now, we will examine how to communicate with your children.
The single most important thing to remember is to listen. Do not feel that you must have all the answers…it is more important for your children to know they can say anything and talk about anything without being judged or punished.
The second important thing to remember is that it is not your job to just dictate commands for your children to obey or disobey. Nothing will breakdown a relationship quicker than the child feeling their thoughts and opinions don’t count.
It is your job to encourage and support them in determining the best solution for them not to control them.
Finally, most of all honor your child’s individuality; respect the fact that they are their own person. See them and allow them to develop into who they are created to be, not a carbon copy of who we are.
The principles of the law of attraction state that what you put out will come back to you. Applying that to communicating with children, tells us that when we value and respect our children’s thoughts, ideas and opinions, they will value and respect ours.