I’ve always believed a words can change the world. “I love you,” can change the way we feel. “You’re so talented,” can build a person’s self esteem. “Don’t do that,” can define boundaries. The power of communication, coupled with consistency, is transformative.
Many times we think people are thinking something and until we hear otherwise, we believe it. Communication is so powerful in setting intentions, bridging people together and alleviating some of the confusion that goes along with basic relationships.
In our parenting roles, we often say, “But my kids don’t listen!”
Communication is the essential component to building a relationship with our kids. They can gain wisdom, confidence, and emotional maturity amongst many other benefits.
Communication is the use of verbal language, tone and body language to express to others how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Some of us parents forget that communication is a two way street that involves both communicating to and being communicated at. Seeing as communication is so powerful, here are some tips for improved communication, and ultimately relationships.
Eight ways to help encourage more/ better communication with your kids:
- Don’t just tell your kids you’ll listen to them, also embody what you’re saying. It’s important that our words align with our actions. If you tell your kids you’re willing to listen to them, but you always have your head in something else, it’s unlikely they will believe your words. Try putting down your phone, put dinner on hold for a couple minutes, turn off the TV and promote eye contact. Make sure what you’re saying aligns with what you’re doing.
- Ask relevant questions and pay attention to their answers. Your kids might tell you a lot of things, but it’s hard for you to remember the little things that seem insignificant to you. Your child might tell you about how a friend didn’t share the ball on the school yard, and you might be internally saying, “ok this is so boring.” But it’s important to know that your kid is telling you because it matters to them. They need to feel like they matter when they tell you things that are happening in their world. Try validating them and saying, “man, that must have been frustrating.” And then check in with them about the particular classmate.
- Don’t always “hide” what stresses you’re under. Your body language is likely setting off many signals to your family that something just isn’t right with you. Maybe you’re frustrated because you got a little less sleep or your boss piled extra work on you before your vacation. The important thing is that hiding your “real life” frustrations isn’t only setting an unhealthy expectation for your kids, it’s also relieving to have their support. Try something like this, “mommy (daddy), is having a bit of a rough day. We all have those some times. It will be ok, but my boss just likes piling on the work sometimes.” And maybe follow it up with something positive like, “it’s a good thing the company is booming and it’s a good thing I have lots of work. Sometimes we all just need a breather.” Communicating what you’re going through in a safe, controlled way, helps kids understand reality on a much deeper level. It might also explain why you’re so cranky (body language). (This keeps kids from guessing that it’s their fault you’re not your best). And your verbal language will help them understand what you’re feeling. Disclaimer: Of course there are things that happen in our “adult lives” that are unsuitable for a child’s ears. If this is the case, use your discretion and instead opt for vague statements like, “mommy’s just having a hard time with some of the stuff that’s going on right now, but I’m sure it will get better.” If you want your kids to talk about tough things they’re going through, then it’s important to model that behaviour too.
- Think before you speak. It’s easy to say things as they come to mind, yet our thoughts can be confusing even to ourselves before we flesh them out. Can you imagine sticking to every single thought you’ve ever said? It seems nearly impossible. Instead, think before you speak. Say what you mean. Your words will carry tremendous value to everyone around you, not just your kids.
- Use some conversations starters, like: how was school today? Did you learn anything exciting? How’s (best friend’s name)? Can you think of anything exciting you’d like to try this weekend? How is everything going for you, we haven’t chatted in a while and I miss talking to you? Taking interest in your kids lives matters!
- Tell them stories about themselves when they were younger. Kids love hearing about happy memories from the past. It’s healthy to share memories with family, and it really promotes bonding and communication that is more “positive” in tone. Sometimes thinking about the past is painful, but try to push negative thoughts aside and look for the very best of times and focus on the joy your child brought you (it can be a story that wasn’t funny at the time).
- Use age-appropriate language. Many studies tell us not to speak to our babies like babies. They tell us to talk to them as we would anyone. Obviously swear words and other profanities are off limits (in my home), but overly formal words can also cause confusion in your child. Try to use language that is accessible to them. Instead of “language that is accessible to them,” say, “words you can understand” or “words that make sense”. Ask your child if they understand what you mean, and if they don’t, then try to rephrase it. Ask again. If they’re still not getting it then try to demonstrate what you mean with a video or drawing, or gesture.
- Use small notes to express love, requests and/or instructions. Because how nice is it to get love notes?! Small gestures often make a big difference in the lives of those around us. Have fun with this one!
Communication is a beautiful thing! It bridges gaps between us, it can make our kids wiser and it can also be cathartic! Good communication skills are so important for healthy families. When communicating, try to assume that there *are no bad intentions* and listen without making judgements. If you hear something you don’t want to, sit on it for a bit and think of an appropriate response when you’re ready. Sometimes an appropriate answer to someone is, “I’m not sure how I feel about this yet.”