When your children are small, you might feel like they talk endlessly. Questions flow, and they want to know everything. Your opinions as a parent matter to them as they soak up the world, and in their eyes, you know it all. As they get older, they meet new people, experience new things, and grow into their own unique individuals. As kids mature into teenagers, parents sometimes feel like outsiders looking in and that their kids don’t value their opinions anymore.
Becoming a Good Communicator
Family relationships are bonds that last forever, and good communication is crucial. When parents and kids can speak freely with one another, kids grow up feeling supported and loved. Parents who know what is happening in their children’s lives can catch problems before they start and teach their kids how they might parent in the future.
Poor communication can be a vicious cycle in families: parents feel cut out of kids’ lives, while kids think parents just don’t get it. Too often, an inability to see the other side makes it worse.
Parents forget kids are people separate from them and have their own views. Kids, especially teens, forget that parents are people; they make mistakes, have plenty on their minds, and have feelings and struggles with letting go and letting kids grow up.
Listening Is Key
Talking is only one part of communication. Listening well is the foundation for trust and respect, but many listen to respond instead of to understand. Kids won’t express thoughts and feelings if parents don’t listen. Parents who lecture and ignore their child’s point of view not only teach that child not to share, they fail to teach important life skills. Providing an open mind, a willingness to discuss all options, and even just listening without judging are skills parents need and should teach their children.
Take time to focus on your child. Too often, we get busy and think we’re paying attention, but kids may not see it that way. Set aside distractions, dedicate less time to empty or time-consuming activities, and be more attentive. Take the time to experience life together. Get your children involved in cooking with you, plant a garden, go fishing, or toss a ball around the yard. Experiences make memories and shared times make you closer. Remember, if you show sincere interest in your child’s life, stay calm, and offer ideas to solve problems without judgment, your child is more likely to open up.
Tips for Effective Communication
Staying calm is crucial. Nothing will end sharing like overreacting to a problem. Remember, when your child shares a worry or a problem they’re having, they don’t need judgment. If your first reaction is to jump to conclusions, your child won't bother sharing with you in the future.
Provide options rather than a lecture. Kids tune out when parents lecture. Parental lectures often sound condescending, go off on tangents, or veer into absolutes. Many teenagers aren’t emotionally developed enough to think abstractly and will often stop listening. If you empathize and offer some constructive ideas, your child can trust you as a source of help instead of hostility.
Often, just being present is enough. As humans, sometimes knowing we have the love and unconditional support of our families can give us enough courage and strength to deal with a problem. Letting your child know you have confidence in their judgment but can help if they call for it can be exactly what they need.
Keep it Natural
When you turn communication into a scheduled event, you can make your child feel nervous and anxious. Instead, let your communication become a regular part of life. If you normalize communication when kids are young, you'll lay the groundwork so that when they have a problem, they'll want your advice.
Some ways to keep the conversation flowing include:
- Family meals provide a time for the family to reconnect and talk. You can ask specific questions or let kids bring up a subject. Bonus: nightly conversation teaches kids about group communication.
- Walks can give you one-on-one time with your kids. If they know they can count on alone time with a parent, it can be a time to open up.
- Cooking together is a chance to teach life skills and have fun, but working towards a common goal can also make your kids feel safe when they share their feelings.
- Car rides are perfect for conversations your child might be dreading. You’re alone together and you have no choice but to listen, but since you’re driving and paying attention to the road, there’s less space for awkwardness.
Your kids are only kids for so long. You want to be there for them, and you certainly want them to feel safe talking to you. If you make sure you listen with respect and kindness, give them encouragement and solutions without taking decisions away from them. Remember to stay calm. Your kids will want to be open with you, and your family bonds will be long-lasting.