Communication is probably the most powerful tool in any relationship and is the vehicle by which everything is either ruined or fixed. And I don’t mean just our words. It is our actions. It’s the facial expressions. It’s the things we do and don’t do. Have you ever said “sorry” but didn’t really mean it? I, personally, speak with my face. I learned the hard way that I have an angry listening face as I unintentionally frown my eyebrows when I’m concentrating. Such grimace can be misinterpreted as anger. Yikes! Or maybe you heard one of your children say “soh-rry!” all while rolling their eyes. That “sorry” does not sound believable, nor is it genuine.
Communication is probably the most powerful tool in any relationship and is the vehicle by which everything is either ruined or fixed.
Or have you ever had a serious conversation with your spouse trying to plan or figure something out, and ended up completely miscommunicating? One person mentally leaves the conversation fixated on one solution, while the other thinks that the agreement was on something else. How frustrating! Miscommunication is one of my biggest pet peeves. Yet, I tend to expect my husband to just read my mind without me clearly stating my thoughts (yes, you can feel bad for him. I do!). But did you know that communication between parents reflects on communication with children? In this blog, I break down the tips and tricks of effective communication that I learned from some of my mentors.
3 Foundations for Communication
Agree on parenting techniques. You and your partner MUST be on the same page about discipline, curfew, and what’s allowed in your home/family, and what is not. Inconsistencies frustrate the children and this type of parenting lead to only problems.
Set clear expectations. Children tend to thrive when they know what is expected of them. Obviously, don’t make it unreasonable. What I mean by expectations is that you should clearly state that, for instance, everyone is expected to be home for dinner. That there will be no phones at the dinner table or during family time. They are a distraction and absolutely not necessary. And stay consistent.
Recognize and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and allow yourselves to complement each other. I have so much respect for single parents. I don’t know how you do it… We are all so different and have various strengths and weaknesses and what one parent cannot fulfill - the other one can take the stage. For example, I cannot play make-believe with my girls. My mind just doesn’t stretch that way. It used to bother me so much, I used to feel like a terrible mother (sometimes still do) but I finally came to the realization that my brain simply does not function that way. If you need someone to build, create, draw up lesson plans, or lead fun experiments - I am your gal! But make-believe… phew! I fail at that. If my girls ask me to play such games, I have to ask them what they want me to say… I need a script! :-) Now my husband, on the other hand, can come up with the coolest bedtime story on the spot! So we play to our strengths. I don’t have to be the best at everything (my competitive self just threw up inside) nor do I have the time for it. So I am more than happy to step aside when the girls and daddy “travel” to a whole other dimension without me. And it’s wonderful!
Hear your child. Simply nodding your head and pretending like you’re listening is NOT hearing! We’ve all been there - acting like we are listening, saying “mhm mhm” all while having a premeditated answer (usually a criticism) in our mind without even HEARING the child. Quit that!
Ask open-ended questions. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions at all costs if you want to hear any details. It might seem silly while they are little but look at it as practice for when they grow up. Teach them to talk to you and actually listen to them!
Role play with your child: “how would you have done it differently if you relived the situation?” “What do you think your sibling should’ve done instead of grabbing that toy from you?” This out-loud thinking helps the child come up with solutions without us actually lecturing them. So while you listen to them this way, you are teaching them morals and problem-solving.
Build trust with little things. If you promised to take your child somewhere - take them even though something has popped up. If you told them you’d play with them after dinner even though you have 7 million chores to do - play! It only takes a few minutes, but it will do wonders for your child’s heart.
Don’t lie! I am not suggesting that you always spill every detail when telling the truth, but certainly don’t lie. The truth eventually comes out and you will be left as a liar that your child doesn’t want to trust anymore. So keep things age-appropriate and be honest.
Don’t trick your children. This goes along with lying. Have you ever used a tactic to lure your child away from something fun they are doing just to tell them it’s time to go home? One of my friends always ALWAYS tells her daughter in the pool “hey come here, I have something for you! No, no, we don’t have to leave, just come here.” And what does she do the moment the girl shows her trust and comes out of the pool? She wraps the towel around her and demands it's time to leave while the girl cries! Promises broken. Trust shattered. How on earth is this girl supposed to trust her mother the next time?! You better believe she won’t be coming out of the pool when asked!
7 Mistakes We Make in Communication
We let our children divide us as parents
Children are smart. They know that they can get away with more when at their grandparent's house than at home. Or they know that one parent is more lenient than the other. This is when it comes down to unity (see above). We are a bilingual family, but my husband has mastered the “whatever your mom said” answer when the language barrier is in the way. And I have to say, the attempts to divide us are minimal! Mainly because we are consistent. Now my oldest will even interfere when the younger siblings run to the other parent to get a different answer. She chimes in with “you know the answer will be the same! Why are you wasting time?” Which is hysterical!
We don’t spend time with our children
Spending time around your children is NOT the same as spending time with your children. Just because you drive them around everywhere it does not mean you are spending time together. It should be personal and quality time. We are all busy, but we make time for what’s important to us.
Spending time around your children is NOT the same as spending time with your children.
Find something your child enjoys and jump right in the middle of it. Do they like to paint? Take an art class together. Many cities offer paint-in-the-park classes through the local community centers. Does your child enjoy one sport more than anything else in the world? Practice with them! Throw a ball, shoot some hoops, set up a soccer net in the backyard (or park!), and get to it. Invest in the relationship and you, as well as your child, will reap benefits for years to come.
We don’t encourage our children enough
If we don’t start in the early years, it won’t seem genuine later (see below). The encouragement should also be specific. Avoid the vague and all-encompassing “good job!” Say something like “I love that you didn’t quit when you felt tired or discouraged.” “Look how beautiful your drawing is! I love the time you spent drawing each one of these pretty flowers.” You get the idea.
We don’t pray enough
Pray for your child however you know how or can. Pray for their hearts, minds, decisions, future spouses, people that come into their lives, etc. There is no such thing as too much prayer.
We don’t adapt as they grow and change
Our parenting style should grow with our children. Grow and adapt. We should go from Commander to Coach to Cheerleader as our children grow. When they are young we are able to instruct them to do something and they follow. But as they grow, they start developing the mind of their own and want to make their own decisions. At that time it is important to become their coach and guide them toward the right choices. Because when they become adults - your bossing around will not be effective. They will be leading their own lives and there will be nothing you can do, other than cause resentment. That’s when shepherding should come into play. And lastly, be their cheerleader. You had done all the hard work of coaching them, it’s time to enjoy the wonderful humans you raised and cheer them on from the sidelines.
We don’t communicate enough
State clear expectations - it will prevent meltdowns.
Set clear rules - so that your children know that consequences await should they break them.
Set clear boundaries - some things are just not negotiable.
Set clear consequences. After all, we are raising adults - not babies. What are the consequences of not going to work? Getting fired.
We don’t communicate well non-verbally
Our facial expressions and body language communicate powerfully! It is either toxic or loving. Do you know yours?
Know your child’s love languages and communicate with each one in their particular love language. Does your child love snuggles more than anything? It could be that their love language is physical touch. Hug them randomly. When you are having a conversation with them, hold their hand or put your arm around them. Do you feel touched out yourself and just can’t handle having to do it on purpose? Been there! But once I realized how much my physical contact means to my daughter, it changed my perspective.
Understand emotions. Is your child throwing a tantrum? Or are they genuinely upset about something? Are they angry about something that happened at school and are expressing it by being mean to their siblings because they don't know how to cope? Or maybe they are overstimulated and just need time to be alone and do nothing.
I strongly suggest getting to know your child. I don’t mean knowing their favorite toy or snack. I mean, really really know them. It will help you see when they act out of character and take proper action. You will know if they are testing boundaries, or if they are genuinely upset over something and just don’t know how to go about it. Be the calm in their storm. Be their coach and the cheerleader.