In the wake of our fast-paced, technology-driven society, parents may find it harder than ever to communicate effectively with their children. While your language and style may change based on the age of your child, these tips are designed for a lifetime of effective family communication. And remember, if communication hasn’t been your focus until now-it’s never too late to start! Below are 16 “touch points” designed to provide parents with effective ways to engage with your child, not once, but each and every day.
Check the numbers that you practice with your family and consider building some new touch points into your daily routine.
____1. Show that you value good communication by sharing something every day. Share what’s in store for your day, and ask your children to do the same.
____2. Send the message that home is a safe place for unwinding, regrouping, and sharing. Children should never feel that they must be guarded in their own home. Home should be your family’s central system of support.
____3. Communication doesn’t have to be a chore. But chores are a great way to engage in communication. Turn the weekly chores such as folding laundry or doing the dishes-into an opportunity to share the workload-and spend time together.
____4. Put down the mobile devices at the dinner table, in the family room, or wherever there is an opportunity to converse face to face. Have a “cell phone drop” if need be.
____5. Day trip. Plan a surprise day-trip for your children. If they are younger, you might give them clues as you go to keep them guessing. If they are older, you may ask for their input as to where they might like to go. This doesn’t have to be far away, and it doesn’t have to be costly. A day trip is a great way to pull your family away from outside distractions, and provide a venue to focus on each other.
____6. Hold a “Best Story” contest. Story of the week. Story of the month. Story of the year. Everyone loves a good story, so why not make storytelling a part of your family’s traditions? Set guidelines such as, “Your story has to be real” or “Your story has to be made up-the more creative the better!” The “winning” story can be highlighted on the fridge or in a special place of honor. Stories might include positive-or negative situations-whatever a family member is comfortable sharing. The point is for parents to show children that family matters.
____7. Never underestimate the power of game night. A quick board game can do wonders to reinforce the importance of together time, and you will learn a great deal through observing how your child handles winning, losing, and playing the game.
____8. If your child has important news to share, avoid letting anything from a phone call to the television distract you. Showing your child that he or she comes first sends a powerful signal of where your priorities lie.
____9. Ask quality questions such as, “How do you think you did on your science test today?” or “What was the best part of your day today?” Be prepared to offer your stories as well.
____10. Be an active listener. Listen-really listen to what your child is telling you. If the story takes some twists and turns, settle in and enjoy the ride. Don’t interrupt or offer a quick ending to a drawn-out tale. Giving your child this opportunity for expression is a great way to build your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
____11. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. As parents, we are always free to say, “Because I said so!” but with the exception of situations in which health and safety are at risk, creating an opportunity to dialogue with your child takes your son or daughter beyond doing what you’ve asked and being empowered to communicate effectively. Humans respond better when they understand the reasoning behind a request. And if you’ve said something you didn’t mean, offer an apology. “I’m sorry” is a powerful statement that demonstrates to your child that you are human, and you are confident enough in your parenting abilities to admit when you have made a mistake.
____12. It’s all in the details. Consider your choice of words. If you are a parent who is filled with negatives or put-down words, directed toward yourself or your family members, this is the image your child will begin to take on. Like self-talk, family talk becomes an important means of shaping our environment. Choose empowering words and positive phrases.
____13. When you catch “good communication” happening in your home, reinforce this behavior by acknowledging the act and publicizing this within your home (e.g., “Thanks to Martin for telling Dad that I was stuck in traffic. And thanks, Dad, for picking up this delicious Chinese take-out.”)
____14. If your child comes home with a problem, use this as a chance to shape a solution together. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Hear your child out, then talk it through.
____15. Humor is your family’s secret weapon. Find humor in life and teach your children to learn to laugh at themselves. Had a bad day at work? Just retelling the things that went wrong can turn an awful day into a lighthearted moment with your family.
____16. Tell your children you love them. Children are never too old to hear, “I love you”-and they are never too old for a sign of affection. While older children may have outgrown your kisses on the playground, they haven’t outgrown the need for verbal and nonverbal signs that you are there for them. Make a hug or a kiss a part of every day.