It is not uncommon for parents to struggle when trying to communicate with their children. Every child is different, and there is no one right way to communicate with every child. Improving family communication is a net benefit to the entire family, and fostering better communication with your kids will help build stronger bonds and help them express themselves in healthy ways later in life.
The Role of Communication In Parenting
Parents play the biggest role in teaching their children how to communicate. Effective communication improves the relationship between parent and child, and also helps the child develop stronger communication skills that will be invaluable later in life.
Virtually every child will find his or her way into trouble at some point, and some children are not willing to be perfectly honest with their parents about such an incident right away. In addition to fear of punishment, children may fear disappointing their parents or having their parents become angry or upset with them. Many children worry that if their parents find out they did something wrong, they will think less of them.
Treating your child with unconditional love and respect, while guiding them through important life lessons, teaching them the importance of boundaries, and instilling morals and values, is much more effective than a punishment or fear-based approach to discipline. This approach will help your child feel like they can come to you when there is a problem.
Fear-based approaches do not help children problem solve or think through how to better handle a situation. Punishment or shaming does not help a child understand the reason and need for certain actions and behaviors (e.g., self-care, school work, helping others, etc), which will ultimately lead to the betterment of the child.
Punishment and fear-based approaches often lead to children keeping their thoughts and feelings in, leading to anxiety, depression and/or aggression; or they lead to children lying, sneaking, hiding to try to get away with things.
Effective discipline does not instill shame or guilt. It does not lead a child to believing they are unworthy, unloved, or not good enough. Instead effective discipline instills a sense of greater trust between the child and the parent.
2. Be An Active Listener For Your Child
Related Article: 17 Ways to Get You Kids to Listen and Show You Respect
Many parents fall into the trap of preaching rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue with their children. Yes, you are the authority figure and your children should respect you and pay attention to what you have to say, but this does not mean you should discount their thoughts and responses just because of their ages. Children are capable of much deeper thinking than most parents may realize, and paying close attention to what your children say is incredibly important.
Your children will know when you are really listening to what they have to say, and this builds a relationship of trust. In the future, they feel safe knowing that they can come to you for honest conversations about difficult topics. Good communication skills not only entail the ability to accurately articulate thoughts, but also listening to others’ contributions to a discussion and offering thoughtful responses.
Really listening to your child helps you get to know him/or her and allows you to take an interest in what is important to them, strengthening the parent/child bond even further.
3. Ask Meaningful, Thought-Provoking Questions
When your child asks a question, do you respond with a succinct answer or invite more discussion? Asking open-ended questions invites your child to expand on their original question and explore related topics more naturally. A dead-end question that ends with a yes or no response does not create meaningful dialogue, it stifles it. Try to extend conversations with your children and pay close attention to how they follow along with the dialogue. Your child may surprise you with his or her interpretations of a situation or topic, and your responses can encourage healthy communication skills if you leave them open-ended. This helps your child build confidence and will set the foundation for healthy dialogue between you later in life.
4. Be a Mentor for Your Child’s Media Consumption
Young children are like sponges; they are constantly absorbing information from their environment, and media can shape a child’s attitudes toward life in several ways. Your child will absorb themes and messages from different types of media including movies, music, television, and video games. Some of these media materials can help with early education and even help your child learn good habits early in life, but other media can be damaging in ways you may not expect.
- Try to limit screen time. If you let your children play video games and watch movies and TV, try to limit their screen time to only a few hours a day at most. Additionally, try to make sure your children have some time before bed without a screen to improve sleep. Children who spend too much time in front of screens often have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and this can cause significant problems both presently and later in life.
- Talk with your children about the media you consume together. Find media with positive messages and themes that you and your child can enjoy and discuss together. Be mindful of what is inappropriate for your child’s age level.
- Start early. The development of children is impacted by increased media exposure at younger ages than previous generations, and media exposure in general will only increase as they grow older. Starting conversations about media themes early will help set the stage for positive, constructive attitudes toward media in the future.
5. Help Your Child Grow Into a Healthy and Functional Adult
Learning how to improve communication between you and your child not only helps foster healthy communication habits later in life but also helps you reach your main parenting goal of helping your child grow into a functional, respectful, and communicative adult. As long as you lay a foundation of trust and approach a sensitive topic with the child’s informed consent, you can explore difficult topics while helping your child feel as comfortable as possible.
One of the most difficult topics parents should discuss with their children is substance abuse and healthy life choices. Children who feel discouraged from talking to their parents about these sensitive topics are more likely to develop mental health disorders and communication issues as teens and adults, possibly manifesting as addiction eventually. It is important for children to learn and understand the harsh impact of substance abuse on the body and brain. It is also important for parents to help instill a sense of confidence and self-love in their children, which will lead to decreased depression and anxiety, and likely decrease changes of substance abuse.
Related Article: 15 Ideas to Build a Child’s Self-Esteem
Parents have the great responsibility of helping their children learn how to face the world and its challenges as adults. Starting healthy communication habits early in life helps children cultivate stronger senses of personal identity and teaches them how to engage in respectful, meaningful discourse as adults.
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Cheree Ashley is the CEO and founder of Bright Future Recovery, a family-oriented substance abuse treatment center in northern California. Their adolescent detox and addiction treatment program is geared toward helping children with substance abuse issues recover from addiction and cultivate healthier habits and coping strategies. As a leader in the industry, Cheree enjoys sharing her knowledge with other practitioners and clinicians within the health care community and while providing case management and intervention services for over five years. Learn more about her latest book, Balance Life, Lessons & Success, on her website.