Although many are called to parenthood, few have the skill and the perseverance to be effective moms and dads, the kind that raise well-balanced, confident, independent children. Their parenting secret? Open communication—one of the most important factors of a healthy, happy family life.
Importance of Talking and Listening to Your Child
One’s parenting style (or lack thereof) during a child’s developmental years, from childhood to adolescence, often determines the child’s psychological and emotional growth. Open communication between parent and child is vital for a minor’s sound mental health. A child’s mental well-being embodies their emotional and psychological capacities in coping with life’s adversities.
A 2004 Dutch study on 4 to 18-year old kids revealed that those who came from families with poor familial communication usually exhibited some mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and hostility. Teenagers often tend to internalize their problems. Parents who have not opened communication lines early on may find themselves having to scale walls of silence, “I-don’t-knows,” and “Nothing’s wrong” during the difficult adolescent years. Kids with mental health issues may grow to adulthood, carrying these same unresolved problems.
Allowing your child to talk, vent, and express their ideas makes them feel important and think that they matter. Genuinely listening to what your child has to say shows them respect. If a child is made to know they are important and respected, they will develop self-esteem, one of the most valuable gifts a parent can bestow on their child. Furthermore, because a child experiences respect and love, they will often reflect these same virtues back, respecting and loving the source of these qualities: the parent—you.
Keeping the line open is no small task, however. It must be done come hell or high water, whether you had a bad day at work, your kid has disappointed you, or your spouse tells you bad news. If you have successfully opened that communication line though, you can make your kids understand that your moods are temporary but your willingness to talk and listen to them is always there.
How to Talk and Listen
Talking and listening with empathy helps the child understand that their emotions are normal and valid. As such, they become more receptive to accepting your opinions and guidance. More often than not, children just want to feel validated so just the act of listening to them sometimes helps them resolve negative feelings on their own.
Listening, an important half of open communication, is a skill that must be mastered. Start flexing your listening muscles by practicing a few suggestions:
- Maintain eye contact.
There is no more indication of disinterest than nodding to your child while keeping your eyes glued to the TV or cellphone. Minimal eye contact signals your absence in the whole engagement despite your physical presence. Your kid may feel that they may as well be talking to the hand.
- Give your undivided attention.
Don’t multi-task. Drop what you’re doing and focus solely on what your child is trying to express.
- Keep interruptions to a bare minimum.
Let them have their say and then clarify.
- Validate what you just heard.
To let your child know they’ve been heard, restate what you understood in your own terms. For instance, if your daughter told you she was angry at her friend who opted to spend her weekend with a different group, you could couch your understanding of her tirade by stating, “I understand you feel rejected because Regina decided to go with someone else’s invitation instead.”
As listening is only half of a good conversation, talking is another skill that must be nurtured well. Responding in the right manner is in both your best interests; so when talking, try to:
- Nix nagging, lecturing, and strong negative reactions.
Lecturing and nagging tones are off-putting and kids often tune these out. Emotional flares and defensiveness only encourage kids to clam up, not tell all. Negative criticism cuts constructive conversations short and may make it more difficult to open communication lines later on.
- Encourage them to hear you out as well.
Open communication is a two-way street. You, the parent, are also an important person that must be heard as well. State your opinions or feelings but do not put down your child’s. If you disagree, say so, but validate their feelings by saying, “You may not agree with me, but this is how I look at it…”
- Never put down your child.
Words that negatively label or belittle your child will get you nowhere. Keep telling your child that they are lazy and they may very well grow up to be. Instead use a different tactic. You may say, “I know you’re a workhorse at football training. Think you can spare a little of that muscle work for this family team by taking out the garbage every night?”
Keeping the communication lines open is quite challenging; but, the reward often spells strong, beautiful parent-child relationships, the stuff that makes life, oh, so worth living.