Learning Effective Communication Skills with Your Children
Communication is the key to a healthy connection between you and your children. As parents we communicate with our children in many ways. Some of them are effective and some not effective at all. With the best of intentions we often jump in with statements or questions like, “What’s wrong? Please tell me what’s going on. Use your words, calm down…” – and so forth.
At the root of it all, kids just want to be understood. They want to feel safe, competent, and they their bad feelings to go away. Often, however, they just don’t know how to talk about it, how to express it, how to put it into words. They just know that it hurts. So there you are, unsure of what is happening, how they are feeling, or what they are experiencing. You want to help them, to make it better, to calm them and soothe them. But they don’t seem to be hearing you.
Maybe it seems that no matter what you say it is met with resistance or seems to make things worse. Maybe you’ve heard your child wail, ‘YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH.’ It’s a tough situation that probably leaves you feeling helpless, lost, frustrated, or anxious yourself.
I bring good news. There are ways that you can help your child express their anxious feelings. Encouraging your child to talk things out involves implementing some effective listening skills.
Communication is not just about you talking or you listening. It’s a shared experience, and at it’s core is acceptance. This is a key point when communicating with your child. Acceptance is not just about how you feel about your child. You may feel and believe that you have a deep acceptance of your child and their experience, but unless you can demonstrate that acceptance you will not be as helpful as you intend. Acceptance also involves your attitude and your behaviour.
How you talk and listen to your child can be constructive or destructive, effective in helping, supporting and encouraging them or ineffective and discouraging. So often, with the best of intentions, we attempt to rescue our children from their feelings or experience. Or we problem solve FOR them, diagnose them, dismiss them, give pat reassurances that minimize their concerns. As Dr. Thomas Gordon (Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and author of Parent Effectiveness Training) says, “when parents say something to a child, they often say something about the child.” Are you telling your child they are capable, creative problem solvers?
Of course our kids need our support and encouragement, but what if we lovingly stepped back for a moment and gave them a chance to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours? What if we gave them time to think, to be creative, to try out their own solutions? That is how kids build confidence and self-esteem.