There are unprecedented opportunities to communicate with others: phone calls, texting, emails, social media, and more. Yet divorce rates have never been higher, and families seem more stressed and troubled. Both parents and children feel strained attempting to accommodate increasing demands on their time and attention while maintaining high standards in all areas of their lives. Thankfully, there is a simple answer: using healthy communication to reduce family arguments.
Unfortunately, work, school, sports, and device-related activities result in many families reducing prioritizing quality family time, with disastrous results. If you notice your family members often sit in separate rooms, eat alone, and rarely talk with each other, it's time to make some changes. To help your family form a closer bond, start creating positive, effective communication and prioritize family “togetherness” by participating in activities together.
If your family is communicating well but not working together as a team or discussing meaningful topics, you may want and need to improve your communication.
What exactly is effective, positive communication? Let's take a closer look.
What Is Communication and How Can It Reduce Family Arguments
To improve your family's communication skills, you must first understand communication basics, the difference between effective and ineffective communication, and its positive and negative forms.
Communication is the sharing of information from one person to another. It is a two-way street, with each person getting a chance to speak and actively listen.
While there are many ways to communicate, talking face-to-face is the method that benefits members the most, especially when it comes to your family. The most popular way to communicate is verbal. Examples of verbal communication include one person talking, singing, signing, or other methods that involve using your voice and words.
Other communicative forms may be non-verbal, such as gestures, nods, body postures, head shakes, and facial expressions. For example, frowning indicates uncontentedness, unhappiness, frustration, anger, moodiness, or general disinterestedness.
Similarly, a “dirty look” can also convey significant meaning without a single word being spoken. Of course, a look can be easily misinterpreted. What seems like a dirty look might be due to someone squinting to look at something in the distance.
Body language can convey plenty of unspoken feelings and thoughts. Adults are only sometimes aware of it, especially concerning the messages they convey to children. Crossing your arms over your chest indicates feeling guarded. Tapping or fidgeting when someone is speaking communicates impatience and a lack of interest, yet most of the time, you do it without even thinking.
Parenting often feels like navigating a minefield, even without sending wrong or mixed signals. While it may seem to be a lot of effort, the rewards can be huge, especially since you will teach your children how to communicate better now and in the future.
Communication can be positive or negative, as well as effective or ineffective. Be as positive and effective as possible. Sending kids the right messages, beyond words, is imperative.
Children whose parents effectively communicate with them are more likely to cooperate and do what is asked of them. They know what to expect after receiving clear, consistent communication. Children who understand what is expected are more likely to live up to your expectations than rebel.
“Because I said so” will work on only the most obedient or terrified children. The rest of the time, it will be a recipe for disaster if you don't learn how to communicate in a manner that will encourage cooperation.
Children who have experienced positive and effective communication are more likely to feel secure in their position in the family. They are more likely to cooperate to keep that happy family life going. Even children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) respond to skillful communication if parents are consistent in expectations and maintain a calm, matter-of-fact reaction to any resulting complex behaviors.
Now that you know more about communication and its different forms, let's look at how to communicate with children by building a solid foundation.
Build a Solid Foundation
There are many tried and true ways to communicate positively with your children.
Clearly communicate while children are young to build their trust. Before parents and children can converse, each must feel comfortable with the other. There has to be a safe, nurturing environment where both parties feel respected, valued, accepted, and welcome to speak their mind, even if the other might disagree.
Mind Your Tone and Posture
Talk to them in a pleasant, loving tone as soon as your children are born. We avoided using baby talk and highly recommend it to other parents after experiencing great success.
Try not to shout or scream, even when children aren't present. When children hear you yell, your anger frightens them, making them insecure and teaching them how to behave. Fear and uncertainty are two things that inhibit your children from speaking freely and communicating openly.
Face children when talking. This will help them notice visual cues, from facial expressions to lip reading. After all, it's hard to converse with someone who does not look at you or turn their back to you. If you need to sit to the side, be sure to turn your head to look at your children from time to time. Doing so teaches them to respect you by making eye contact and imitating your communicative behavior.
Share your daily activities. Include your children in your daily activities, even if your tasks take 2-3 times longer. Talk through what you're doing and explain things. Even if your children are babies or toddlers and don't understand your words, they “listen” to your facial expressions, tones, and body language as you speak and interact.
Make very young children a part of your day-to-day routines, even if it seems odd since you may feel that you spend all your time tending to the little ones. However, when you make them a part of your daily activities, you send the message that they are loved and accepted and matter.
Having the children in the room with you makes communicating and interacting easier. For example, if you are washing dishes, give your crawler or toddler kid-safe “dishes” or utensils to play with. Talk aloud about everything from spoons to that new recipe you found online. If you are sweeping or dusting, provide children with a child-safe cloth or a kid-size broom to “help” you. It doesn't matter if the baby chews on the rag or the toddler plays with the broom instead of sweeping anything. The point is that you are talking and sharing one of your activities.
Take Time To Join In
Join in your children's activities. Create child-centered activities for very young children. Think of short, structured activities you can do together for 10 to 15 minutes. Incorporate these into your children's daily routines when possible. Songs, finger plays, and simple games are activities you could incorporate in various environments and situations, like at bath time or when waiting in line.
Older children who can create their own “activities” enjoy and benefit from your “guest appearance” in their worlds. For example, if your children are having a tea party with their stuffed “friends,” take a break from your activities and join in the fun. Be sure to take a “gift” or snack to share with the host/hostess, fostering the example of good manners. Now would be the time to model appropriate etiquette.
From the time your children are very young, make it a priority to share your activities with them, including Bible studies, chores, cooking, and even baking bread. Also, make an effort to join them with their activities, even if it is as simple as independent play, board games, finger painting, building with blocks, putting legos together, or any other activity. Doing so will translate into a comfortable atmosphere of love, understanding, and acceptance that will be the foundation for open communication as they grow and gain skills. Communicating during everyday events, playing, and quality time makes it easier for your children to open up and share their thoughts, feelings, and worries.
Use the “Why” and Endless Questions Phases to Bond With Your Child
Promote deeper connections during the “why” stage of childhood. Parents dread the “Why” stage their children go through, but this is a crucial stage in developing an open, positive atmosphere of communication. Stay calm, and don't allow your impatience to show. It could make your children feel you don't want to talk to them or don't care.
Some of the “why” questions will be uncomfortable or inappropriate at the time. If you show discomfort, you might shut down communication. This raises the issue of things you should not discuss because they are “not polite” or “rude.” These blunt and usually loud questions can also bring a screeching halt to conversations as adults try to regain their composure. One way to handle this publicly is to say, “let's talk about it when we get in the car.” At home, you can say, “We can talk about anything at home, but there are some things that should not be discussed around other people because it's rude or it may make them feel bad.”
Then you can give some relatively harmless examples, such as asking how much money people make, bathroom activities, or other personal questions. As children age, teach them that some subjects should be private.
If you don't know the answer to their question, say so. Researching the solution together in a book or online is a great way to show your children you value their thoughts and foster their curiosity and love for learning. Their questions deserve truthful and accurate answers. It also gives you a shared activity and an excuse to spend quality time together.
Understand the Connection Between Say and Do
Some people say, “I love you” all the time. Others say it rarely, and some don't say it at all. Some feel their children will feel loved if they show love with a gift or pat on the back. Unfortunately, this is not the case because you give mixed signals (we've learned that the hard way), including you say one thing when you mean another or your body language doesn't match what comes out of your mouth. I love you, from sincere to sarcastic, can be noted in a range of tones.
Say what you mean, mean what you say, watch your tone, and be mindful of your body language, how you stand or sit, and when you speak to your child. If your children are young, don't bend over them. Kneel down to their eye level or sit on something low to make eye contact before you talk, hug, kiss, or praise them.
Speak to Their Level
Use age-appropriate words and synonyms. Speak to children in a way they understand. “No hitting” will work with children of any age, compared to “It is not acceptable to abuse anyone.” Also, in conjunction with known words, use a few words just a little beyond their age level. This is how they learn more powerful words, such as “acceptable.”
Now that you are on your way to building a solid foundation for communicating with your children, let's dig into some tricky aspects you will encounter on your journey, such as dealing with the “No” stage.
Survive the “No” Stage
You probably know about the “terrible twos” when 2-year-old children decide that “No” is their favorite word; it's often bellowed at the top of their lungs. Fortunately, several positive strategies can stop the screaming before it gets started.
Consider how often you say “No” to your children daily. “No, don't chase the cat.” “No, you don't get dessert,” and so on. As the children grow older, they will express their desires, thoughts, and feelings by saying “no” when they disagree with something.
There is both an upside and a downside to this. The upside is that when children learn that their wishes, thoughts, and opinions matter to you, they feel loved and respected. Ultimately, allowing them to say “no” sometimes sets things up for you to say “no” while giving a choice of acceptable options. The downside is it can become a battle of wills, and neither person is willing to back down.
As a parent, you might feel you have to win every battle and can't afford to back down. Progress often requires concessions and/or compromises. You don't want to take away your children's will or ability either to say “no” or to disagree. Pick your battles, stay calm, and use effective strategies to keep communications positive.
Effective Strategies for the No Stage
When faced with screaming, crying, whining, angry, defiant, or rebellious children, you can find that the “positive” part of “being positive” flies right out the window. In fact, there may be times when it's all you can do to hang on to the “being” part.
Most parents, at some time or other, have considered hiding until the tension decreases.
This can be difficult, so here are a few practical strategies you can use during the “NO!” stage and other difficult times.
Request rather than demand. “Don't roll in the mud in your new clothes!” is likely to start an argument compared with “Please sit on the couch until the guests arrive so your nice clothes will stay clean.” The tone is also important, as are the words please and thank you.
Differentiate between mountains and molehills. Yell if your children are about to run in front of a car. However, only make something a big deal if it's crucial, with the potential to result in injury or death. Take a deep breath to refocus your thoughts and emotions. Look at things from the “big picture” angle.
Imagine for a moment your 3-year-old is the ring bearer in a wedding, and he decides to practice his puddle jumping skills before he walks down the aisle. It may seem like a big deal at the time, but it will be hysterically funny to all the parents, who understand and will provide great material for his future wife. Go with the flow. Learn to see the humor and the positives. Even if the only positive you can think of is “this will pass,” it is positive.
Make important things very clear. Safety rules, consequences, and expectations are good examples of important things that must be made very clear using positive, meaningful words and concepts. In addition, if something is significant, go with your better judgment, and administer consequences when necessary.
Avoid using negative words like “Don't.” It focuses on negative or inappropriate actions. For example, “Don't run into the street,” is a standard negative reminder from parents. Instead, say, “Stay on the sidewalk,” or “keep to the side of the road,” if you don't have sidewalks.
It's easy to frequently use “don't” when teaching your children what's appropriate and what is not. Remember that you want to focus on what your children should do rather than what they shouldn't do. Here are a few statements that use positive words and provide logical explanations:
• Matches make fire. Fire is dangerous, so only adults should touch matches.
• Walk beside me even when we aren't holding hands.
• Always ask for permission before touching or borrowing something.
• Stealing is against the law, and thieves get into trouble.
Logical, age-appropriate explanations are more meaningful and memorable. They will also encourage cooperation more than barking orders will.
Be Consistent, Especially With Younger Kids
Some adults yell at their children for getting muddy one minute. Then the next minute, they laugh and take a picture to send to friends. They might punish one child for speaking out of turn or hitting but let the other children in the family get away with it without an ounce of discipline. This creates a very confusing home culture. This inconsistency in expectations and attitudes can cause resentment, likely provoking hostility and a lack of cooperation. Helping them understand there's a time and place for different behaviors and when that action would be appropriate helps them distinguish the difference and not just hear contradictory commands.
Make the response match the situation and severity. Not all “bad” actions are equal. Some are just accidents. Others are outright defiant. If you punish children the same way for accidents as you do for intentionally rude actions, you make all those issues seem equal when they are not.
For example, accidentally dropping and breaking a glass is not as severe an offense as intentionally punching a sibling in the stomach or inflicting pain. Offenses against others should be dealt with more severely because the real-life consequences are more severe. Things like glasses are just that, things, not living beings.
Let Them Make Decisions
Earlier, we mentioned that allowing children to make choices makes them feel valued and loved. One of the keys to children helping make decisions or choices is limiting their choices. This is very helpful for parents and children. You choose 2 options that are both acceptable to you. Allow your children to make the “final decision.”
A prime example of a situation that could incorporate kids making a choice is when you've all been out together running errands, and everyone is hungry. You know your kids will want to go to a convenient, fast-food restaurant, but you want them to have something healthier. Think of two places that provide healthy meal options, and ask them to decide for you.
Turn things into a game. Make bath time and mealtime enjoyable but not too exciting. You might sing a song together if you transition from the playroom to the bathroom and then to bed. When they are in the tub, children can count the rubber ducks you put in the tub and tell a story about each. A bedtime story that is not too exciting can signal it's time for sleep.
Kids are often impatient, especially when traveling or standing in line. Keep a list of quiet games in your bag or pocket that can be played in the car, indoors, or in public. When the kids start getting antsy, take out the list and play one of the games. A few games that come to mind are “I Spy,” “20 Questions,” “Who Did It?,” “Grocery Store Game (I went to the store and bought…),” “The Alphabet Game”… etc.
Be a Leader in Your Family
Get them to follow your lead. If they are fighting with you over putting on their snow boots or winter coat, for example, put yours on first and then say, “I'm all ready to go out and have fun in the snow. Are you ready yet?” You can also sit down and say, “I'm going to put on my snow boots so I can go out and play. Let's put them on together.”
Leading by example is one of the most impactful ways children learn from you and others, so always be aware of how much impact what you do and say has on kids. Little eyes are always watching, and little ears are always listening. As an adult, you are always setting an example. Whether you are an example of doing something right or something wrong is up to you.
Make Appointments With Your Child
Sometimes children's “bad” behavior is just a cry for your attention or help. If the kids come to you and say, “Mom, do you want to play a game,” and you say, “Don't bother me now. I'm busy,” your children may feel that they or their wants and needs are not important.
As a work-from-home and stay-at-home mom, I can see how this is easily overlooked. Too often, it becomes too easy to ask your kids to wait while you do another task “real quick.” Seeing their heads drop down in disappointment and feeling like your computer or phone time is “more important” than spending time with them is crushing.
One solution is to schedule regular “me-time” appointments with your children. Once it is on the calendar, treat it as seriously as you would a business or doctor's appointment. That scheduled time with your child(ren) becomes the most important thing for that time block.
If you are totally crunched for time, ask your spouse to help trade off doing chores and spending time with your children. If this isn't possible, say. “since we have time together scheduled, and this needs to be done real quick, can you help me get it done faster?” Even if the task takes longer, you're still spending time together.
If you need more time before starting your dedicated time together, your child(ren) may ask how many minutes. Say 5 or 10, and stick to it. Kids will get impatient and disruptive waiting longer than that. This should give you enough time to finish what you are doing or reach a natural stopping point when you need a break. Set a timer, and keep your word.
It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.Ecclesiastes 5:5 (NLT)
Now that you are armed with practical strategies for dealing with the word “No,” another area may give you some trouble – unexpected or tricky situations.
Planning for Unexpected Situations
Creating a plan for unexpected or tricky situations may seem almost impossible since every situation is different. However, you can develop a basic plan that, with a few adjustments, can be adapted to various conditions. You know your children better than anyone else knows them.
The amount of time you've spent with your children has given you insights into what and where their limits are. You know what triggers or sets them off and how they react in certain situations. You can recognize and interpret the “signs,” verbal and non-verbal, that your children are becoming overwhelmed. All of these things make you the expert on your children. Using what you already know or suspect, you can create a contingency plan for the “unexpected” or tricky situations.
As you begin planning based on previous experiences and difficult future situations, you should address events or times that can be particularly tricky or difficult for your children. Here are a few examples of events, concerns, and solutions you may want to include in your plan, even if you have yet to experience them.
Naptime or Bedtime:
Many children struggle to relax and sleep. This is because they can't control their emotions and thoughts as well as adults. In other words, children don't know how to self-soothe effectively. In addition, they may not want to go to sleep because they don't want to miss any “fun.” So how do you make sleep time easier on yourself and the kids?
You can do many things that will help your children relax and sleep. One of the first steps is to help them transition to nap or bedtime. Kids' senses and emotions are turned high when they've been up playing or interacting. Their bodies probably still have some unreleased energy floating around.
Help them relax by sharing quiet, low-key activities. Examples could include reading, singing quietly, listening to slow songs, coloring, closing their eyes, rubbing their backs, wiping their faces and hands with a warm, wet washcloth, etc.
For children who fear missing out on fun or excitement if they go to sleep, reassure them that you will wait for them to get up before you have fun. If the activity is to happen at a specific time, such as going to the playground, agree to help them wake up “in time.”
We do bath time in the early afternoon in our house because baths spin up my kids. Many other families conduct bath time in the evening to help their kids calm. If you do baths in the evenings, they may already be over-tired and fight sleep. Some children don't like water or the bathtub, especially the drain. Other kids don't like taking their clothes off for sensory reasons. These situations can cause bath time stress, causing your children to act even more moody or defiant. So how do you deal with these issues?
Teach your children to self-soothe and manage emotions. Use some of the same quiet, low-key activities you do during naptime. Use the warm water to your advantage. It will help relax your children as they play with tub toys.
If your children don't like water, sit them in the tub and add the water a little at a time. A slower transition may work better. Depending on your children's ages, you may also consider getting them to help get the bath ready. This may include turning the water on (slow-fill), adding scented products, choosing the tub toys, removing towels, etc.
Discovering that the drain is an issue for your children can be an “AH-HAH!” moment for you. To help your children fight this fear, drain the tub after they leave the bathroom. Then, during daylight hours, let them play in the bathroom and kitchen sinks. These drains are less “threatening” and give your children positive experiences to remember and build upon.
No one wants to stop having fun, regardless of age. Mealtimes can be difficult, especially if your children feel the fun is being taken away to “just eat.” Depending on your children's ages, stopping to eat could cause a meltdown that endangers the whole city.
To head off this meltdown:
- Develop a routine with time frames that include transition time and activities.
- Depending on the children's ages, try adding a “get ready” or transition time 15-30 minutes before a meal or snack is served.
- During this time, have kids help you “get ready.”
To “get ready” for a meal or snack, encourage them to help you prepare the food. Helping allows them to develop a sense of pride in their efforts, encouraging them to eat without struggle. Get them to set the table or ask them to help make desserts, such as healthy brownies, sundaes, or cakes with warm berries and whipped cream on top.
Meeting New People:
Meeting new adults and new children can be stressful if your kids are shy. Children may react by turning away or “hiding” behind you when possible. Your children may even start to cry or yell.
You can help to make meeting new people easier for your children by maintaining physical contact with your children. This may include holding one of their hands or picking them up. Keep a little more distance between your children and the new people. It makes your kids feel safer, and they are less likely to panic or throw a tantrum.
If they panic, put additional physical distance between your children and the new people or turn so the new people are not entirely in your children's field of view. Essentially, help them to “hide” and watch when they feel comfortable.
Attending a New Daycare or School:
New places such as daycares, schools, and homeschool co-ops can be overwhelming, confusing, and frightening to your children. Your children may typically react to these feelings by hiding behind you, whining, crying, getting mad, having a tantrum, hitting others, and saying “NO!”
To help your children deal with these feelings and avoid the reactions:
- Begin talking with your children about the new environment well before the first day.
- Keep the conversations short and positive.
- Listen attentively to your children's questions.
- Answer them honestly and focus on the positive aspects.
Take advantage of special times such as “open house” when kids will likely see people they know and trust. Schedule a “guided tour” for your children if this is impossible. This option may be beneficial if your children are timid or feel uncertain. You may also want to do this a couple of times – once without other children/students present, to get a feel for the building, classroom, and the teacher and take a second tour to meet other classmates.
If your children have a meltdown when they go to “school,” use some of the plans you made for meeting new people. Since many emotions and reactions are similar, some strategies will also work.
Reducing Stress While Running Errands:
Stores and other public places can present various issues for parents and children. Overstimulation, boredom, and inactivity often cause kids to act up while shopping.
To avoid overstimulation, try to shop with your children during “off hours” when lines are shorter, there is more personal space available, and it's quieter.
Allow older children to help you get items on your list to reduce boredom. If the kids can read, give them their own lists. Let them put those items in the cart when you come to that aisle.
Inactivity is a big problem for young children sitting in the cart. To help keep the kids from getting antsy:
- Keep them moving, in safe ways, of course.
- Encourage them to sing and do finger plays as they ride.
- Allow them to swing their legs gently.
- Get these little ones to help by handing them small, light items to put into the cart.
Another thing you may have to deal with is that your children think they can manipulate you when you are in public. When the “I wants” and “Can I have” come out along with whining, pouting, and other forms of manipulation, put an immediate stop to it. Hold firm to your “No” answers, and be prepared to leave immediately rather than give in. Don't allow the threat of a public tantrum change your answer. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Minimize Shopping Stress
Children see things they want to buy when shopping. To help avoid a meltdown because you can't or won't buy items, give children a little pocket money, even if it's just a few pennies or dollars. They can spend it during the shopping trip or save it for the next trip.
When children are old enough to have an earned allowance, they will have the means to buy items for themselves. Let them decide to save the money or spend it. This will teach them how much things cost and help them to set goals. A quick tip for learning money management: teach them the value of saving. We require our kids to save 30% of their earnings and tithe 10%. The remaining 60% is theirs to decide.
Timing – Young children, in particular, can get hungry, thirsty, and sleepy quickly. It doesn't take long for them to reach meltdown mode over these issues.
To avoid the fallout, plan your shopping trip for the optimum time of day. Typically, this would be after naps, meals, or snacks. You may also want to keep an “emergency” drink or snack on hand, along with a few pocket toys.
A playground is a place of wonder and excitement for your children. However, things can get out of hand quickly, especially if your children get too excited or need to become more familiar with the equipment. You may also encounter issues with other children, especially if a bully is on the playground.
When kids get too excited, they don't think about safety. Don't let your kids run wild. Walk around with your children, introducing the equipment and reviewing safety rules. Explain how the equipment works and can be used.
Keep a close eye on your children when they play with others. Not only are you watching for any mistreatment of your children, but you are also making sure your children don't take advantage of others. If your children suddenly don't want to go to the playground, question why and continue conversing about playground friends – adults and children. You may discover the issue relates to one or more people/situations there.
Doctor or Dentist Visits
Young children often fear doctors, dentists, and anyone in medical clothing because they associate it with pain, discomfort, or uncertainty.
To soothe your children's fears, discuss what they can expect from the visit. Make the trip fun with a particular activity before and after the appointment.
Several events and situations mentioned repeatedly happen in daily life. Because of this, your contingency plan is critical. However, your tried and true “solutions” won't work at some point, so you'll need a backup. Plan accordingly with multiple solutions to try.
While routines weren't mentioned in depth (because every family's routine and what works for them is different), having routines in place is very important. Routines are your first line of “defense” when dealing with your children and/or avoiding their meltdowns. Routines help to keep the number and the severity of unexpected or tricky situations to a minimum. If you still need to establish daily and special routines on your calendar, make time to do that now. It will help you more than you realize!
Most parents would love to run away from “No” situations. The good news is that practice will help you deal with these issues more efficiently, and look forward to the following stages as they navigate the early school years.
Noticing Differences & Similarities in the World Around You
As your children get older, they meet and associate with various people. Some of these people have different beliefs and values. While you won't always agree with their perspectives, being non-judgmental builds trust. Emphasize similarities as you mention your family values and rules.
By the time your children are in their early pre-teen years, from about 8 to 12, their questions will have changed from requiring simple answers to being more complex.
During this stage, you may discover that you are fielding more questions about family arrangements and values. You may also learn more than you ever wanted to about what's going on at the neighbors' or in the home of your children's friends. In fact, your children's attitudes and behaviors are changing a bit as different peers spend time with your children.
This is your clue to keep your communication open with your children and interact more with the larger group of people in your children's daily lives. Here are a few tips to improve your communication.
Get To Know Your Children's Friends
Getting to know your children's friends will help keep the lines of communication open. Discouraging them from seeing friends, or voicing disapproval, may cause rebellion instead of cooperation.
If you're concerned that their friends' family cultures are less compatible with yours, consider inviting the friends over to your house so you can provide a more influential role. This does not mean acting like a prison warden but could look like including their friends at meals and in other family activities. If the kids don't like the activity, ask what they would like to do instead, and be prepared to compromise as needed.
Create a Home Away From Home
Make your children's friends welcome in your home with your children's permission, and invite the friends over as much as your children would like. Stay open if/when friends ask questions or share information with you. Get the kids involved in cooking dinner, baking, doing arts and crafts, etc. Often the children who seem most troubled and adrift are the ones whose parents need to take an active interest in where they go or what they do.
Of course, caring for other people's children can be time-consuming and tricky because of the disparity in family values. However, treating all children with respect and care and about them will be easy to treat them with the same concern as your own children.
If your child goes to school, frequently communicate with the school. Regular communication can help identify issues before they get out of hand. For instance, if your child is having trouble with math, make time to speak to their teacher on the phone or in person. Follow up as needed by giving them extra support and help or hiring a tutor.
Communicate With Friends' Parents
Be sure the parents of your children's friends have your number in case they ever need to contact you, and vice versa. You don't want to seem like a paranoid parent, but better safe than sorry.
Hosting events and activities at home and regular communication also means less danger of your kids lying about where they are, who they are with, or who is supposed to supervise them.
The older children get, the more independent they want to be. Good communication will provide a solid anchor to help keep them from drifting off course as they explore the world around them.
One of communication's most critical but often overlooked aspects is just how good everyone's listening skills are. Let's look at this topic next.
How To Be a Good Listener
People tend to value smooth talkers in our society. Still, being a good listener is the secret to positive and effective communication. When parents listen to their children and don't talk at them, over them, or interrupt them, they show interest in and care about what their children say. Body language and eye contact will also be essential here.
Several strategies will set you up for successful communication and show you can listen and talk. Here are a few suggestions:
Make Eye Contact
It shows you are paying attention and prioritizing the conversation. However, sustained eye contact can feel threatening. As needed, keep your gaze to show that you're honoring the individual you're talking to, not just looking for distractions.
This also shows you are paying attention and have enough respect for your children to want to focus on them.
Keep interruptions to a minimum while your child is speaking. You can nod or smile to encourage them but don't speak.
Let your children know they've been heard. You can re-state what's been said to be sure you understand it. You can also make a comment, such as “Thanks for sharing that” or “I'm glad you did well on the test. I'm so proud of you.” If what they tell you is more like a problem that needs to be solved, say, “Thanks for letting me know about this situation. What can I do to help?” Sometimes, listening is enough.
Keep Conversations Brief
In many cases, short, regular daily communications are more effective and productive than an hour-long meeting once a week.
Younger kids (under 10) often can't mentally manage longer or more intense conversations. Keeping them short and to the point builds respect and trust, as you're not asking them to comprehend more than they are able to.
If there is anything you need clarification on, ask for more information once they have stopped speaking.
Ask about their desires and opinions.
Don't try to solve their problems for them. Ask them what they should do and serve as a sounding board. Gently steer them in the right direction without being a dictator.
Some questions help conversations, while others can stop conversations dead in their tracks. Parents should ask open-ended questions in their discussions with their children.
Listen, and then share if it is appropriate. “I'm sorry you've had a tough time in your new school. I remember how hard it seemed to make new friends, so I joined a couple of clubs, and the people I met there became my best friends,” would be one example.
Try To Be Non-Judgmental
We live in a politically correct and pluralistic society. The entire notion of family is being redefined. Regardless of your personal opinions, try not to judge or say anything you would be embarrassed for your child to repeat. A neutral stance would be, “Each adult is entitled to make their own decisions.”
It's OK to say, “I don't know.” Children often look to us to have all the answers, but no one does. If you don't know, say so, and then share some time with your child to find the answer in books and/or on the computer.
Make Your Explanations Clear and Age-Appropriate
If your child asks a question, they want an answer. Consider your reply for a moment and then explain clearly and briefly. Keep your lectures comprehensive, including important information, but short.
If your answer can't be given in a manner, they'll understand, talk with them about the complication, and explain the topic until they know enough to be satisfied with the answer.
Now that you've learned to be a better listener, it's time to look at things to do and what to avoid to communicate effectively and positively, even when conflict and a lack of cooperation arise.
Using Family Communication Strategies To Resolve Conflicts
Your family has experienced conflict at one time or another. However, you may not know that what you do in the middle of the conflict can bring you closer or drive you further apart.
Here are a few things that can help resolve the dispute, encourage cooperation, and promote closeness.
Work on One Problem at a Time
During conflicts or discussions, it's common for several issues to be thrown into the pot, especially if blame is tossed about. Keep the topic to the immediate problem. Avoid re-hashing past history or assigning blame.
Engage Your Child in Seeking Solutions
There are usually several ways to solve any given problem. Each will probably work, but some might be better than others, especially given the nature of each individual involved or the reality of a particular situation. Ask for input and develop an action plan you can follow as a family.
Always Prioritize Honesty
Honesty is the best policy. Many conflicts stem from money issues in the family. Some parents try to protect their children when there is a money problem. Others want to ensure their children have “the best of everything” but end up working too many hours to pay for all the material goods they buy.
If there are money worries in the family, share information on how to save money with your children and how everyone can work together to improve household finances. “We can't afford it” is one of the most challenging things we will ever learn to say, but a good lesson for the children. Another alternative is, “Yes, you can buy it if you save money for it.”
Be polite and respectful. Parents should be polite to each other and their children, regardless of age.
Discourage talking behind anyone's back. A good policy is mentoring by saying, “Never tell someone else what you would not be willing to say about a person to their face.”
Use “I” phrases during arguments. Own your feelings, but don't blame others for them. “I felt upset when you broke the vase because I asked you to please not play with your soccer ball in the house. I felt ignored and disrespected.”
Avoid “always” and “never” phrases. Always and never are actually impossibilities. No one constantly does the disturbing behavior every second of the day and night. Be specific. “I felt upset when….” “It worries me when you….” Fill in the blanks as needed.
Don't Hold Grudges
Grudges only serve to shut down communication.
Be willing to say you forgive them. Forgiveness takes only one person. You can choose to forgive, even if your child has not apologized.
Get to the real heart of ongoing conflicts. If the same battle keeps cropping up, it must be dealt with. Involve your child by asking what is going on. Refrain from jumping to conclusions. If they've failed to complete their math homework for the fourth time that week, don't just assume they are being lazy. Maybe they have trouble, whether it's understanding, feeling intimidated, confusion, dyslexia, eye strain, or the result of bully interaction.
Now that you are familiar with some conflict-resolution communication strategies let's take a few moments to look at examples of communication tactics parents should try to avoid.
Damaging & Ineffective Communication Strategies
Your communication strategies are often “borrowed” from your past communications with your parents. The trouble is that what you consider “normal” might be harmful and destructive. Fortunately, once you are aware of your negative patterns, you can replace them with positive habits that will promote harmony in the family and gain cooperation.
Here are a few examples of harmful and ineffective communication forms that are best avoided if you wish to have a happy home life.
You have several choices if you have to request more than 3 times. You can punish your children, do the task yourself, hold a conversation about the importance of the task, or get someone else to do the chore.
My husband and I often explain to our kids why their chores are important. They have constant responsibilities with cleaning their rooms, washing their laundry (including bed linens), and cleaning their bathroom. Aside from that, they must do three helpful tasks in the house or yard daily. If they don't choose and complete those three things before noon, I assign the tasks. When asked why they have to do something, we tell them, “as a member of this family, living in this house, and benefitting from the collective efforts of everyone else, you're required to be helpful.”
We routinely show them that as adults, we are responsible for keeping our homes and bodies clean, and as children, their primary responsibility is to learn how to be self-sufficient adults.
We also teach personal responsibility for completing necessary tasks around the house. “If Mommy doesn't want to clean the kitchen, then she needs to pay someone else to come over and clean for her. If you don't want to take care of your tasks, you'll need to find a way to pay someone else to do it for you. So, how will you earn what you need to pay someone to do your chores?”
We always give our kids the opportunity to exercise their entrepreneurial strategy skills. If they don't want to do their chores, they must pay a sibling or parents to do it for them. But doing so requires earning an income from more challenging tasks with higher levels of responsibility and/or community service.
If the same conflict keeps coming up, such as taking out the trash, re-negotiate. Sit together and discuss everything that needs to be done daily, weekly, and monthly around the house. Explain that as a member of the family, they're required to help with age and skill-level-appropriate tasks. Ask them to choose from the list what they will be responsible for and explain that they'll need to do more on some days than others.
Lecturing is talking at your child. Doing this may cause people to tune you out. Effective communication can only occur with both of you listening to the other. It can even cause resentment and hostility in teens, leading to rebellion and losing closeness.
Instead, model and teach them to listen with the intent to understand. Invite them into the conversation, and encourage them to respond conversationally. For younger kids, use storytelling or imaginary play to help guide them through understanding.
Gaining your attention helps your kids feel valued, respected, loved, and safe. Ignoring them does just the opposite, causing undue stress.
Ignoring your child(ren) also teaches them to ignore you and others.
If your children are trying to get your attention, give it, or tell them you can talk with them in X minutes when you reach a stopping point.
When children are talking, parents should allow them to finish what they're saying before speaking themselves. Along with lecturing, the children will give up if they don't think you care enough to listen.
Of course, there are moments when they interrupt inappropriately, especially if boundaries haven't been set. If you're working from home, entertaining guests, or in different life circumstances where you need to focus on something other than your child, talk with them first, and give them attention before and after the event.
“Mommy really needs to take this call for a 20 mins at 1. So let's play and talk now for the next 15 minutes, then I need some quiet time will eyou play by yourself, then we will play together again.” This conversation has really helped me when taking coaching calls.
Criticizing & Rude Remarks
We live in a world where everyone is a critic. There is no shortage of criticism in the real world, but that doesn't mean you should welcome it in your home, especially towards your children or any other family member. Preserve your child(ren)'s innocence by shielding them from unnecessary comments and fostering a family culture based on respect and love.
Instead, teach your children to look for the silver lining in everything. Teach them that mistakes serve as learning moments and inadequacies provide skill-building opportunities.
Making rude remarks, name-calling, giving sarcastic responses, or behaving in any manner that isn't modeling appropriate behavior results in raising a future bully and directly diminishes your child's confidence, self-esteem, and faith.
Avoid being sarcastic. The word “sarcastic” derives from Ancient Greek, meaning “to tear flesh.”
If you make rude remarks and criticize your child instead of using these moments for teaching, consider taking time to understand why and challenge yourself to engage in personal development and faith enrichment.
While I don't believe any parent intentionally manipulates their kids, it does happen (often learned from childhood, modeling parents from long ago).
Common ways parents [unintentionally] manipulate their kids:
- Reward compliance and conformity while punishing personal expression and differing opinions.
- Ignoring or criticizing the child's interests and strengths.
- Resenting or punishing the child's natural dependency needs and/or immature emotional responses
- Using harsh criticism or anger to shame your child (which is now known to cause life-long health issues as an adult)
- Forcing children to “grow up faster” by expecting them to act like adults
- Forcing children not to grow up as they're ready, treating their children like they're still babies.
- Being emotionally unavailable to nurture them, especially during vulnerable times of need
- Refusing to teach them life skills, then harshly judging them for difficulty completing tasks
Don't try to get your own way through manipulation. Sooner or later, your children will figure it out and resent you for tricking them.
Manipulating your kids also teaches them how to manipulate, diminishing trust among everyone involved.
Avoid making children feel guilty because of their thoughts, feelings, and/or actions in the hope that they will “correct” their “bad” behavior or do what you want.
Threats are rarely effective and usually make a child feel powerless and resentful of the manipulation and verbal aggression.
Studies have shown people lie hundreds of times a day, often to escape a tricky situation or spare people's feelings. Don't lie to try to sweep things under the carpet. Honesty is always the best policy, regardless of how hard it might be. Lying will only tell your child it is OK to lie, including to you.
Solving All Their Problems:
Children develop independence when you allow them to figure out what to do for themselves.
It is OK to give input and guidance, but let them develop an action plan and support them in following it through, but don't do all the work for them.
My kids and I have this conversation almost every day when we sit down to tackle our school routine. Often I'm asked, “why can't you just do it for me” or “why can't you just tell me the answer?” Doing it for them doesn't teach them how to learn, manage, or apply knowledge, nor does it teach them the critical thinking skills needed for learning problem-solving skills.
Children can experience intense feelings as they age, from fear of a bully to their first romantic crush. Don't discount their feelings. Discuss them and try to be supportive. For example, if your daughter has a crush on the school quarterback, don't tell her to snap out of it or that it's just a passing phase. The feelings are real, and arguing about them might only make them act out in unwise ways to prove what they feel is “real.”
These types of communication create a distance between you and your children. The more space there is, the more often misunderstandings and conflicts happen.
Read through this section again. Be honest. Have you been doing any of these things to your child? If so, it's time to stop and start using some of the positive strategies outlined in this guide. Then see what a difference it can make to your entire family.
Communicating Effectively Isn't Easy, but It Is Worthwhile
Effective, open communication takes a lot of hard work but is entirely worth it if it promotes more cooperation and happier home life. No one is perfect, but you will get better with practice. The main thing to remember is to show, through words and actions, how much your family means to you, your spouse, and your children. It's easy to overlook the little things when everyone is so busy. However, little things add up to be big things, such as better relationships or a mountain of obstacles to effective communication.
Every journey starts with a single step. Learn about positive, effective communication, and apply what you learn as consistently as you can. Then see what a difference it can make. Screaming matches should soon be a thing of the past as you enjoy a much closer, more cooperative relationship with your children.