As a parent, we want nothing more than to protect our children from the dangers of the world around them.
To do this, it is important to keep the lines of communication between you and your child open at all times. Many parents find that as their children get older, they become more distant and independent. They make friends and prefer to spend time with them than with their parents.
While independence is an important step in growing up, it is still important to practice good communication skills with your child to help them cope with things that they see and hear throughout their lives.
1. Watch What They Watch
Be honest: how often do you sit down and watch the television shows and movies your children are watching? Entertainment media is full of messages about drugs, alcohol, sex, or violence. Some are more overt in the display of these messages earning them a stricter rating than those who hide the messages within the storyline. If your children are watching television or a movie, join them.
Watch what they are watching and ask questions either during commercials or at the end of the film. Find out why they like the movie, what their favorite part was, who their favorite character is, or just what they thought of the overall message. By opening a discussion, you are giving your child an opportunity to ask any questions they may have.
This doesn't just have to be with entertainment media. If you watch the news in your home, your child is likely seeing all of the things that are happening around the world. These stories can affect them without them even being fully aware. If a particular story has caught your child's attention, ask them about it. Ask what they think about what happened or how the story made them feel.
These conversations will give you insight into how your child feels about certain events as well as how they would handle it if they were in a similar situation. Remember that no matter what their answer, you should never express anger toward them. If their answer is one you don't feel comfortable with, take that time to address any issues in a calm and collected manner. Keep in mind, they are still developing their view of the world and need your guidance in making the correct choices.
2. Encourage Honesty
We all know that old saying that honesty is the best policy.
That is especially true with kids, but can be incredibly hard on parents. Imagine if your child told you they did something like steal, what would your reaction be? Would you get upset? Would you punish them? Most likely, every parent reading this is saying yes in one way or another. What if punishing them could actually lead to the end of your healthy communication skills?
Most children and teenagers are afraid to tell their parents when they have done something wrong. It is usually more because they don't want to disappoint you than the fear of punishment.
One of the best ways to keep the lines of communication open with your child as they get older is to talk them through what they are telling you and react in a calm and collected manner. Discuss the potential consequences of their actions with them rather than yelling or grounding them. By allowing these open discussions, your child will be more likely to come to you with issues in the future.
This doesn't mean condoning the behavior. You will still need to correct the behavior or activity that your child is involved in but, you want to make sure they know you are not punishing them for telling you. You are disciplining them for doing what they did. Commend them for being honest and help them get back on the right path.
3. Listen, Listen, Listen
As parents, we always want to jump into action when our children tell us things. Sometimes, the best approach is to sit and listen as they talk about whatever it is they need to get off their chest. Rather than jumping to their rescue or to discipline them, help them talk it through until they come up with a better solution than they originally considered.
Many children are faced with peer pressure everywhere they turn, which can cause plenty of stress and anxiety. This pressure can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol as well as viewing pornography or participating in sexual acts at far too young an age.
By giving your child the ability to come to you with these issues and having you help them determine the right course of action for themselves, you are helping them to fully learn the difference between right and wrong and how to stay on the right path.
If your child is struggling with a situation that they are unable to get out of on their own, offer them the help they need. Many young adults fall into the traps of addiction to pornography or even sex and drugs at a young age. These are situations that may require your guidance to get them the help or counseling that they need.
4. Ask Meaningful Questions
In many cases, it is not uncommon for the communication between you and your child to have deteriorated slightly as they have aged. The teenage phase can be hard on both the child and the parent. However, to protect your child, it is important to work to rebuild those lines of communication. There are a number of ways of improving family communication from following your child cues to asking questions in a specific manner.
When your child comes home from school, you probably ask if they have homework and how their day was. How often do you get a one or two-word answer and they disappear into their room? If you ask open-ended questions, you are more likely to get a meaningful response. Instead of asking "Did you have a good day?", ask "What did you do today?". This type of question gently forces the child to respond with a more detailed answer which will give you more insight into their life.
Pay attention to their cues. Conversational cues will differ slightly by age, but they are mostly consistent. Younger children may start to give silly or goofy answers when they are done with a conversation while older children will begin to zone out. Even though you may have a million more questions you would like to ask, it is important to follow your child's cues and put the conversation on hold until a later date. Forcing a conversation that they are no longer interested in having, will only serve to push them further away.
If your communication with your child has been strained, it is important to start off slowly. You can't go from barely talking to having in-depth conversations about their friends and personal life.
You need to ease into it no matter how hard that may be for you. Start the communication with asking things that may seem silly or unimportant.
For example, you are stuck on what to make for dinner as a side dish. Asking your child what they think would go well with the main course will open that communication channel ever so slightly. It also shows them that you value their opinion.
Communicating with your child may prove to be difficult on occasion but, you should never give up. Strong, healthy communication skills between parent and child can make a difference in the child's life. Strained communication can lead to poor choices, undiagnosed mental health issues and even addictions. Let your child know you care by keeping the communication open between the two of you.