Healthy Communication Overview:
The Importance of Communication
Your conversations can enhance the quality of your relationship with your children and the degree to which your children grow up with a sense of safety and security. At other times, the words and messages sent are harmful and destructive.
However, even when you are angry or need to discipline your children, you can communicate respectfully. By consciously choosing words that do not blame or shame, you can help your children see themselves as competent and capable members of your family.
Through the effective use of words, parents can create a climate of love, acceptance, hope and support that can inspire children to reach their potential and can sustain them during times of stress.
These messages are communicated verbally through your words, as well as non-verbally through your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. So remember, how you say things is as important, or more so, than what you say.
Parents can send these healthy messages to their children through listening, talking about their own feelings, teaching, praising, and problem solving. There is no right technique to use in any particular situation.
You can use any of these methods in healthy ways that will improve your relationship with your children, either in one–on-one communications, family conversations, or during more formal family meetings.
Language that supports children is:
non-judgmental and provides objective information.
tentative and flexible to allow for mistakes, differing opinions and possibilities.
specific to the situation and does not include words such as “always” and “never”.
finds the positive in a difficult trait, behavior or situation.
Language Shapes our Attitudes
Being aware of the language they use allows parents to determine what “mirrors” they hold up to their children about how lovable and how capable their children are. These simple but very powerful tools positively influence how parents view their children and how their children think about themselves.
Using effective language can promote an attitude of resilience and optimism in their children. The more children feel good about themselves, the more likely they are to be motivated to learn and incorporate necessary changes into their life.
To test how healthy your communication is, ask yourself afterwards:
“Do I feel good about myself?”
“Do my children feel good about themselves?”
“Is our relationship preserved?”
If the answer to all three questions is “yes,” then you are putting the power of your words to good use.
Overview of Healthy Communication Techniques:
Parents act as teachers, mentors, and models. When parents use a respectful approach, children are better able to understand and learn from them.
Be clear and specific with children when explaining new things.
Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
Show them what to do.
Work with them until you and they know what needs to be done.
Encourage them to ask questions so that they can get clear about what you are asking them to do.
Talk about consequences of behaviors. For example, what happens when chores are not completed?
Invite children to provide feedback on how things are going.
The goal is to work together as a team, as a family.
One of the most effective skills you can learn to use as a parent is that of listening to your children. Listening involves really hearing what is going on for your children and even “mirroring” back those feelings to show that you understand what they are feeling.
“It looks like you are really angry about having to wash the dishes.”
“You are having a hard time deciding who to invite to your party.”
“You are disappointed that you did not get a better grade on your project.”
In each of the above examples, the parent simply stated what she heard going on for the child by listening to the child’s words and by seeing the child’s body language.
One benefit of “listening” to your children is that you can slow down the urge to jump in and immediately “solve” your children’s problems. By listening, you can allow yourself the time to get clear on what the next step might be in handling a situation. Sometimes you may decide that a situation needs nothing more than for you to listen and acknowledge feelings.
By listening, you allow children the opportunity to vent their often intense feelings and you send a very powerful message of compassion. When you allow those feelings without judgment or criticism, children feel valued.
One of the best ways to motivate children to learn and become more responsible is by praising and affirming what they do. Ideally, you can identify the specific things that they have worked on or accomplished.
Rather than just saying “Good job,” you can say,
“I appreciate your so including your younger sister in the game that you were playing with your friends today. That is what I call being kind.”
A child will be more internally motivated if you give him the words to help him identify the feelings associated with the action.
For a child who is having trouble starting and completing a job, you can help motivate him to do more by praising the process and by acknowledging even small steps that are taken in the right direction.
With young children, praise should be immediate to be most effective.
“You were such a helper putting the dishes in the sink.”
With older children, praise can come either immediately or later during a quiet moment, such as at bedtime.
“That was such a grown-up thing you did earlier today by donating your allowance to the hurricane victims. It must make you feel proud to be able to help those in need.”
I-message – What to Say when You are Upset
Using an “I” Message is a way to express your own needs, expectations, problems, feelings or concerns to your children in a respectful way that does not attack them. They also model for your children a healthy way to express strong feelings.
This communication skill is often a good first response to your children when you do not like their behavior; although it does not necessarily result in them changing their behavior, it does give you time to get clear about what is upsetting to you and why.
An “I” Message consists of three main parts:
Describe the specific behavior
Describe how you feel
Describe the tangible and specific effect of the behavior on you.
“When you won’t leave Billy’s house when I say it is time to go, I get upset because I have to get home to cook dinner before I go to my meeting tonight.”
deal with some of the struggles you have with your children
help your children to feel that they can contribute to solutions to problems rather than seeing themselves as being the problem
strengthen the relationship you have with your children.
Before you meet with your child
Check your attitudes toward problems.
Clarify the situation
Determine whether the situation/behavior is the result of a challenging, but normal developmental stage.
Decide if it is your problem – not your child.
Be sure the behavior is unacceptable to you.
When you meet with your child
Select a calm time to discuss the situation with your child.
Discuss the situation from each of your perspectives.
Brainstorm possible solutions.
Create a plan from the ideas generated that addresses the problem and includes such specifics as what is to happen and what is the consequence for non-compliance.
Set a date to meet and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan. Make changes as needed.
You can model and teach your children how to approach and solve problems with confidence. In the end, they learn an essential life skill that they will be able to use in all facets of their life as they grow into adulthood.
Often when parents think of things that their children need, they focus on the material things in life that are tangible and concrete: they need clothes, they need school supplies, they need medical care. Or they think of less tangible things such as sports and socialization options and activities.
But actually, one of the most significant things that a parent can give to a child is his time and attention. Spending time with your children is the factor that will have the greatest impact on their feelings about themselves, on their self-esteem and on the health of the connection you have with your children.
For more information about healthy communication, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.