Tips for Parent-Child Communication

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Kids have stereotypes about adults, as adults do about teens. It is difficult to communicate through the soundproof walls of stereotypes. It is sometimes hard to hear in the noisy background of stereotypes, fixed ideas and preconceived notions.

A recent survey on teens shows that a large majority of them want a closer relationship with their parents. They are often concerned about parental reactions and opinions and wish for better communication with their parents. Many teens say that they often don't feel comfortable talking with their parents about real problems and concerns.

Interviewers asked teens about the reasons for not talking to parents about things that really matter to them. Some of the common answers given by teens were: "They don't really listen" and "They don't really understand so it doesn't really help." Therefore, we parents need to take the lead and meet the communication challenge. We need to do it right before they can be expected to "get it right."

Hugging their children is the most important thing parents can do to validate them and make them feel connected. But what should parents do after they have hugged them? Listening and talking is the second key to the physical, psychological, and spiritual growth of the child. Communication, if done the right way, is another way of reaching out and touching a child.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has lately taken an active role in helping parents communicate with their adolescent children. In this article, I will later present many of the suggestions offered by the APA. First, let's begin by asking ourselves the following two key questions:

1. Why does my kid have a difficult time in talking with me about what's going on his/her life?

2. How comfortable am I in initiating conversation with him/her on such sensitive (or delicate) subjects?

If you feel that your child really doesn't listen to you, add one more question to your list and that is, "What am I doing that my child doesn't listen to me?" Even if you think that the fault lies in the child, it is better to look for an explanation in your own behavior. Whatever answers you can come up with, acknowledge them to your child. This may impress on your child that you are acting in good faith and you have credentials to back it up.

Hear your child out. We often interrupt our children too soon. It's a basic rule of engagement. Hear your children's viewpoint even when it is difficult to hear and the impulse to correct them is difficult to resist. Let them finish speaking before you respond.

A significant number of teens complain that their parents are "too busy," "don't have time" or "aren't there when I want to say something." Be available to your children when they are most likely to talk. Stop whatever you're doing and listen. Never postpone the conversation. When a kid has spoken, that is the right time.

Learn about their interests such as their favorite music, movies and activities, even if you don't agree with them because they are great talking points for teens.

Soften your reactions even if you strongly disagree or disapprove of what your children are saying. Otherwise, they may decide to never truly say what's on their mind. Kids, like adults, have a tendency to tune people out if they sound angry or defensive. Express your opinion without putting down theirs.

We should be able to cope with not just our children but anybody whose views or beliefs differ from our own. Our values, prejudices, or beliefs may sometime make us intolerant and become such impediments that we just cannot hear the other person. Why not give our children the same courtesy we give to our clients, business partners or political rivals, that is, "to agree to disagree?" Don't argue about who is right. Instead say, "You may disagree with me but here is what I think."

If you want to initiate a conversation, do it by sharing your own thinking about an issue rather than beginning with a question. An abrupt question often serves as a warning, "Why you asking me? What did I do?" In a conversation, focus on your children's feelings rather than on your own.

After you hear them out, repeat what you heard them say to make sure you heard it right. Before you react one way or the other, a question such as this would be great: "How can I help you with this?" Sometime, kids want advice, other times they just want to express how they're feeling.

The British who ruled India constantly warned the Indian freedom seekers about the awful mistakes the inexperienced Indian leaders would make if they were given the power to rule. Gandhi, the chief architect of freedom movement and father of the nation countered, "But those will be our mistakes." Kids, too, want to learn from their own choices. As long as the mistakes are not dangerous, let them.

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