Communication Strategies for Parents
by Jill Savage

When our youngest son was in preschool he sat at the kitchen island telling me about his day at school. I was busy fixing dinner so I multitasked while listening to his story. Finally, he stopped and said, “Mom, listen to me.” I told him I was listening to him and I repeated back to him the details of what he had told me. “No mom,” he responded, “listen to me with your eyes.”

That day will forever be etched in my memory. It was the day I learned an important lesson in communication. In fact, over the years I’ve learned a lot of important lessons in communication that have made a big difference in my parenting.

Communication is key to teaching, encouraging, and expressing love to a child. It also is key to discipline and correction when needed.

Intentionality is key in communicating with children. With good, proactive communication strategies in place, children will feel valued and encouraged, they have a clear understanding of standards, and they understand impending consequences, if needed.

Here are some communication strategies to consider:

Make eye contact. — Our son knew what he was talking about when he asked me to listen with my eyes. Eye contact affirms the person talking. It says, “I care about you.”

Touch affectionately. — The sense of touch can communicate a lot. A pat on the back, a gentle squeeze of the hand, or a big bear hug all express love and encouragement.

Give respect. — If possible, give a 5-minute warning when you need a child to make a change in what he is doing. This models respect for someone else’s time and agenda. No one likes to be pulled away from what they are doing without the opportunity to make a mental transition.

Teach them how to interrupt. — If you are speaking to someone and your child needs to speak to you, teach him to simply place his hand on your arm and wait for you to respond. The hard part is certainly the waiting part, but this gives him a respectful way to get your attention when it is needed. A little bit of role-playing can teach this concept.

Be creative. — As children get older, parents can be creative by employing new ways to exchange information. E-mail, texting, Facebook, and instant messaging are communication tools most teenagers use. Some parents find these helpful for communicating information about events, dates, or times. One parent shared that she sent her teenagers the dates of their family vacations via e-mail, asking them to request the dates off at work.

Exchange a journal. — Some kids will communicate in letter form better than verbally. My friend Jenni started a journal with her pre-teen daughter during the summer she turned 12. Jenni started the journal with a few thoughts and a few questions. She laid it on her daughter’s pillow and several days later, Jenni found it on her pillow with her daughter’s thoughts included. They exchanged that journal for many years to come.

Be willing to talk about anything. — Your kids are sure to blush when you talk openly about the hard issues (friends, drugs, sex, alcohol, etc.). However, when they do have a question, they are more likely to come to you if you have already opened the door on those subjects in previous conversations.

Make a date. — Spend time with each child one-on-one. This gives uninterrupted communication time to get to know what’s in his heart. Spend far more time listening than talking.

Say “I love you.” — Far too many kids grow up without hearing their parents openly express their love to them. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally. Say it with words, don’t assume they know.

Communicate expectations clearly. — If you are walking into a store and you want your child to ride in the shopping cart, set the standard before you ever get out of the car in the parking lot. Is this a trip where he can get candy in the checkout aisle? If not, tell him before they enter the store.

Speak words of life. — So often it’s easier to communicate disappointment, anger or frustration to a child. This happens when we react rather than respond. Even in discipline, a parent needs to speak words of encouragement, hope and promise to a child, communicating that he/she believes in the child.

The foundation of a child’s self-concept lies in the hands of a parent who has the ability to shape, mold, and encourage with carefully chosen words. Let’s be intentional about the way we communicate with our children. Our words are foundational to that child’s life.

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