Positive communication is an essential part of all healthy relationships. It builds mutual respect, trust, connection, and nurtures your child’s self-esteem. The parent/child relationship is our first place for learning how relationships should be. Therefore, when we set the standard for healthy, positive communication now, children develop skills that will help them build healthy relationships lifelong.
Here are the guidelines for positive, respectful communication with children.
ACTIVELY LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD:
Oftentimes, parents listen to respond rather than to understand. We want to quickly offer our judgments and advice, but doing so may shut down the lines of communication. Active listening means you listen attentively without interrupting, seeking to understand the words, the emotion, and the message of the speaker.
Put away distractions (don’t look at your phone or a newspaper, but give full attention to your child), show you’re interested by using positive body language (nods, eye contact, open posture), offer encouragement to continue talking, such as “go on” or “uh-huh,” and make sure you understood what was being said by paraphrasing.
For example, “What I’m hearing is that you…Is that correct?”
Who else would we ever speak to this way except a child? No one! Speaking to children this way isn’t necessary, either. Tone is as important as words, so use a positive, even tone and don’t speak to them in a way you wouldn’t use on anyone else.
I know it can be exasperating when children don’t listen or when they behave in ways we don’t like, but speaking disrespectfully will never encourage cooperation or better behavior. It only sets a poor example for communication – one they will likely pick up and use on you or others in the future.
GET ON EYE LEVEL:
If you are towering over a child, it can feel intimidating for them. When a child has something to tell you, get down on eye level if you can. This helps children feel more at ease, which opens up communication. Being on eye level conveys the message that you are really paying attention and enhances connection.
Try to see things from your child’s perspective. When we dismiss or reject our children’s feelings, opinions, and ideas with “it’s not that bad,” “there’s no need to be upset,” “that’s a silly idea,” or “that’ll never work,” they feel invalidated. That shuts down communication. Empathy not only helps us communicate our thoughts to others in a way that makes sense to them, but it allows our children to feel heard and understood.
MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS:
Being in tune with and in charge of your emotions and being able to regulate before you respond is key to positive communication. When you are able to remain calm and positive and refrain from attacks and saying something you might regret later, you model true maturity to your child. Plus, with no threat of an outburst from you, your child will feel comfortable opening up to you about bigger and tougher things.
Clear, direct, assertive communication means you express your feelings, needs, and desires effectively, while respecting the rights of others. Being assertive is a necessary parenting skill. Aggressiveness puts children on the defensive, and passiveness gives children a disproportionate amount of control.
When you communicate assertively, use “I” statements, discuss your feelings, and give reasoning for your boundaries or rules. While being assertive, always keep your child’s feelings, needs, and wants in mind. This builds mutual respect. Teach your child how to communicate assertively as well as it’s an important skill to have.
USE CONDITIONAL COMMUNICATION:
Giving a child the cold shoulder, not speaking to him, rolling your eyes, scowling, and withholding affection when a child displeases you is not modeling good communication skills. While we must correct poor behavior, be careful not to communicate conditional love as that damages a child’s self-esteem and breaks down the connection.
LECTURE WHEN ANGRY:
It’s unlikely that you’ll communicate effectively when your reptilian brain is lit up. Wait until you are calm and rational before confronting your child. Try saying, “We need to talk about this soon. First, I need to calm down.”
Honestly, I’m not sure if there is such a thing as constructive criticism. Criticism is always painful as it is a direct attack. Rather than criticize, describe what needs to be done. Instead of “your room is always a mess,” say “I need you to clean your room by this afternoon.” When you focus on what you want done in the future, rather than on what your child did wrong in the past, you’re much more likely to have a positive outcome.
Use these guidelines for effective, positive communication. When you model these strategies, your children will also begin to use them in not just communication with you, but with others in the future.
As seen on CreativeChild