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Healthy Communication with Your Children

Words are weapons, words are balm for our comfort, words sharpen the spirit and strengthen the soul, words fill the empty spaces of our lives where actions are far beyond reach, words keep us connected like the strings of an acoustic guitar, and words are elusive healers. With words the earth was perfectly made, and after all that’s said and done, I am a product of beautiful words.

Photo: parentingspecialchildren.com

I never knew how powerful words were, only to grow up realizing how far it had brought me in this life. Growing up as a child, I heard words like these from my father: son, do you know who you are? And he would always answer: you are the son of Frederick I. Eru. In as much as I knew those names were his, the authority behind the voice came with a great level of security, love and concern. Growing up as a child, I thought my dad was a super hero and that I was the son of one. His words made me feel I was always first amongst equals.

Communicating with your child

Understanding how children think is crucial to understanding their development because children’s perceptions of life events often determine how these events affect them. Cognitive theorists focus on the development of thinking and reasoning as the key to understanding childhood growth. (Microsoft Encarta).

Why communication is important

Communication between parent and child is not leisurely, and is perhaps one of the toughest challenges that parents have to face. Communication is a, if not the, two-way bridge that connects you and your child. It is, therefore, important to establish and maintain good communication with your children. Healthy communication is essential in helping your child develop self-esteem and confidence, and can make the tough parts of parenting, such as enforcing discipline, much easier and effective. Good communication, in the early years, helps your children learn to express their feelings, helps avoid behavioural issues in the future, and helps you to understand each of your children’s specific needs, and strengthen the parent–child relationship. Here are some healthy tips for communicating with your children.

Be available: Spend time with your children to make them feel that you are available. It helps your children feel cared for and loved. Give your undivided attention to listen and to understand their feelings. Even spending 10 minutes a day talking to your child can make a big difference in forming good communication habits. To the parents, we all know earning a living is not cheap, but to what end are your struggles, if it only creates a void in the lives of your children.

Be a good listener: Listen to your children with respect. It will help develop a bond of trust between you and them. Ask them about their ideas and feelings on a subject. Also, try to understand what exactly they are saying. Avoid interrupting with your own advice as they unfold the problem or story, let them express their point of view fully. Being a good listener does not mean that you have to agree with what they are saying, it just means that you have to listen. It helps your children calm down so, later, they in turn can listen to you.

Be empathetic: This means tuning into your children and letting them know that you understand their feelings. Showing empathy can reduce the frustration and anxiety your children feel about a matter. Encourage them to express their feelings. Acknowledging their feelings communicates acceptance and understanding. Be sure not to pass any judgmental remarks.

Be a role model: Children learn more from what you do than from what you say. They learn by observing the way you present yourself and react to them. It is obvious that they will, in some way, copy the way you communicate. So, it is important that you use words and tones in the same way that you want your child to use. For example, if you use strong words to describe your feelings, instead of screaming or name calling, your children will learn the same.

Photo: jefferyhill.typepad.com

Things you should always say/do

  • Praise your children and let them know what you like about them.
  • Pay attention to your children’s body language and help them clarify thoughts, feelings and ideas.
  • Help your children in distinguishing between thoughts and actions. Assist them in understanding what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable. For example, explain that it is okay to feel angry with someone, but not okay to physically hurt them.
  • Be truthful and honest. Practice what you preach.
  • If you are too busy with your work and schedules to focus on communicating with your children, take advantage of some time spent together — while traveling in the car or walking to or from school.
  • Use “I” statements to tell your child what upsets you. For example, saying, ‘I felt worried when I could not find you’ is better than saying, in an angry tone, ‘Where were you?’
  • Use “you” statements to point out good behaviour. For example, use the phrase, ‘You have done a good job.’
  • Label your children’s behaviour and not your children. When they upset you, let them know that you are upset with their behaviour, not them. For example, if you catch a child in a lie, tell him/her that you are upset because they lied to you instead of calling him/her a liar and a bad child.

Things you should never say/do

  • “Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?” Siblings and rivalry go hand in hand — and anything you say that sets up comparisons only fuels that natural flame.
  • “Because I said so!”  We’ve all been there — you just need to get out the door and you don’t have time to explain why they need to switch off the computer immediately and head to a family event/doctor’s appointment/religious obligation. The phrase because I said so puts all the control in your hands, and dismisses your child’s growing sense of autonomy and ability to figure things out.
  • Do not call your children names. Use phrase like “I do not like the way you behave” rather than “you are a bad child”.
  • Never scream or threaten.
  • Do not lie to your children.
  • Do not use silence to express strong feelings as your children are not likely to understand you.
  • Never humiliate or embarrass your child in public or in front of their siblings or classmates.

Every child deserves to be loved and cared for. Remember that cognitive development in a child is fostered by open and healthy communication between parents and children.

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