By Sam George
Last week, we began a new series on how to effectively communicate with kids. Communication is tough in our increasingly complex world, but communicating with young or older kids is even more complicated. Inter-generational communication in immigrant homes poses many unique challenges and should prompt parents to develop the art of effective communication.
The basic challenge is that parents often speak without understanding how their children receive the message. We often make an assumption that our kids understand the way we do, and when their understanding level is different, we wonder, “Why didn’t they do what I said?” Try to see the situation through your child’s eyes and do not presume things or think you know it all.
Sometime parents only want to talk about big issues and overlook the importance of listening to the little things of life. Kids will talk to you if they know you’re going to listen, whether they discuss heavy issues such as sex and drugs, or everyday things like schoolwork. If your kids know you’re listening, they are more likely to trust you enough to talk about everything in their life.
In a national survey, more than half of children reported that when they talked, their parents often or sometimes didn’t give them a chance to explain themselves. When listening to your kids, do not interrupt and let them finish what they are trying to articulate. It’s a good idea to give your children some extra time to explain their opinion or desires, even if you think you know what they’re going to say.
Parents must listen between the lines, both spoken and unspoken. Since many kids find it hard to talk to their parents about things that really matter, parents have to pay special attention to what their kids may be trying to say. It helps to pay particular attention to emotions and not just the emotion itself, but its intensity as well.
It is important to listen for the underlying issues beyond your children’s words. Complaints against siblings might actually be the fallout from an argument that happened earlier in the day with a friend at school. The more that parents tune in for the deeper issues and ask appropriate clarification queries, the more likely real issues will surface and parents can understand their children.
Even when you get to the real issue, resist the temptation to rush and fix things. By acknowledging your child’s emotion, she is ready to talk more about what’s really on her mind and will focus on how to solve problems for herself, rather than depend on a parent to fix it. That way, she will be trained to handle similar situations more decisively in future.
More important than acknowledging our children’s feelings, is how a child deals with what he feels. Parents, who learn to listen non-judgmentally will build a strong rapport that will last through the notoriously uncommunicative teen years. Preschool years are very critical in establishing a strong parent-child bond, communication patterns and trust levels.
Keep your eyes on strengthening your relationship with your child. Talking and listening are only ways of doing it. We must be good at communicating with kids if we want to have strong parent-child bonds. Though it is only a means to the end of a strong relationship, we must get good at this, for much of relationship depends on good communication skills anyway.