We learn to talk as children but learning to communicate with our own children can take a lifetime.
More is not always better. This can be hard at times since parents get used to doing everything when their kids are babies. But then babies become toddlers and then kids and their needs change constantly. As kids grow, parenting skills slowly transition from the hands-on help that small children need to the hands-off interactions that young adults require.
One of the most important hands-off skills for parents is communication. Like other parenting skills, communication also has to evolve as children grow. Working on communication actively is one way parents can do more for their kids. In many conversations, the topic is less important than just spending time together. And then there are times that kids need help whether they ask for it or not. Here are some simple pointers that can help.
Moving from bad to good communication patterns:
I worked for several years in a program for young adults. When we did family meetings, many clients would go from being their usually open, talkative selves to silent, arms folded and staring at the floor the moment their parents entered the room. While this level of shutting down forms over years, most kids have their own milder style of the same dynamic.
Familiarity may not breed contempt between family members, but it can easily breed assumptions. When parents and children act from what they expect from each other rather than what is happening in the moment, problems develop. The way to break these negative patterns is to start interacting in a new way.
Pay attention to nonverbal behaviors. Folded arms, broken eye contact, being too busy to talk when you know they are not actually busy, these actions are quite often symptoms of kids feeling like they know what a parent is going to say and not wanting to hear it. The way to treat these symptoms is to listen instead of talking.
The willingness to sit back and listen to your kids can be hard in some circumstances. Parents are often a bit too willing to step in and fix things, to give advice and tell their kids what needs to be done. Kids learn by example. If you want your child to trust him- or herself, the best way to demonstrate that they are worth listening to is to listen to them.
Being with your child’s discomfort
When kids are happy it is easy to just be happy with them. But when they are unhappy it is tempting to want to save them from it, to step in to help them feel better. This has been called the “righting reflex” because we just want to make it right. Instead, parents can help more by treating hard times more along the lines of how they react to good moods—just be with your child.
Just being with your child when they’re feeling bad has several effects. It is an expression of empathy. It can aid them in learning to regulate negative emotions. It normalizes bad feelings because we all have them at times. Kids need to understand that a bad day or two isn’t the end of the world. Parents are the best teachers in this situation.
A young adult’s ability to be independent does not develop on the trip from home to college. Parents have to start earlier in supporting their kids’ willingness and ability to solve problems. This support will help kids develop self-efficacy, that inner belief that they can handle things for themselves.
Research shows that one of the key differences between people who fail and people who succeed is that the people who succeed believe they will. Even when lots of things go wrong along the way.
As your child grows, they will develop their own ideas about how to solve problems. If parents consistently tell children that there is a better way then kids won’t learn to trust their own solutions. At the same time, if parents give kids the support they need to try out their own ideas, even if they fail, then that child has the opportunity to learn a lot of important lessons.
Where to start
When it comes to parenting, anytime a child overcomes the odds, works hard and makes it, goes the extra mile for anything, does something selfless, it is essential to mention it. People, not just children, form parts of their self image from the world around them. If they get positive feedback about what they’re doing they will start believing it.
This is especially important when things do not go as planned. Life rarely serves up a total failure. If the game is lost, there are still plays that mattered, there is still the effort that went into it and improvement from the last game or last season.
To get started, find the small, personal actions that your child takes and point them out in a timely manner. Be specific and genuine and steer clear of empty praise. While “good job” is better than nothing, finding specific behaviors you would like to see more of works better, such as, “You did a great job of cleaning up and I didn’t even have to ask.”
Also, it is better to bring up things that your child has control over. Pointing out how smart she or he is might be nice but children don’t have any control over how smart they are. They can control things like how hard they work or study, the choices they make, how hard they try before asking for help, how they handle failure, how well they follow through on commitments, or chores, or doing their homework.
The power of good communication
We often underestimate the power of words. We learn to talk as children but learning to communicate can take a lifetime. Put your kids on the right path by setting a good example: learn to listen, accept their bad times like their good times, support their choices and let them know that you notice when they struggle and when they succeed. Few things have such a lasting impact on your child’s behavior and success.
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