By Bev and Phil Haas
We’re looking for tips that will help us keep the communication lines open with our kids. We want to make sure we’re developing good habits before we hit the teen years.
You’re wise to start thinking now about the next stage. Some of the greatest communication challenges between parents and their children occur during the teen years. So setting up positive communication habits now will give you a head start.
Communication Is Key
Years ago we heard one of America’s most prominent counselors, Dr. H. Norman Wright, say, “Communication is key.” He was speaking about marriage relationships at the time and used the phrase in the title of one of his many books. We also believe communication is key to a healthy connection between parents and children.
There are several things to keep in mind as we talk about effective communication. Communication is about both a sender (speaker) and a receiver (listener). Both are vital for making a positive connection.
We communicate with more than words. Research tells us only 7 percent of the meaning of any message we send come from our words. The other 93 percent come from our tone of voice (55 percent) and our nonverbal cues (38 percent). Often problems that arise in our communications are not about what we said, but how we said it.
Two Tips to Communicate Effectively
Here are a couple of key tips on communicating effectively with your kids. We’ve selected these from a long list of tips we believe will benefit your family the most now and during the coming teen years.
Be present. It’s easy to be with your kids physically while being somewhere else in your thoughts. Being present is about focusing your full attention on your child when you are together.
You don’t need tons of time to do this. Even spending 10 attentive minutes a day with each child will help keep the communication lines open. As your children get older, don’t be surprised if they aren’t ready to talk when you are. When your child is ready, stop whatever you’re doing and give your full attention!
Rather than wait for these magic moments, look for natural times to communicate with your kids. Deuteronomy 6:7 outlines four times that are part of every family’s rhythm. Moses tells the parents to talk to their children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” For most families today these four natural times for conversation are: mealtime, drive time, bedtime, and morning time. If parents take advantage of the times already built into their family schedule, initiating interaction will become more natural and more effective.
Be an active listener. Effective communication between parents and children begins with listening. James 1:19 gives practical advice on interpersonal communication: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” This translates into less talking and more listening on the part of the parent. It’s even more important to practice as your kids become teens. Instead of being quick to listen, many parents make the mistake of being quick to interrupt, especially when they think what their teen is saying is wrong or irrational. An active listener seeks to understand first and then to be understood. If you don’t understand, ask questions, but don’t take over the conversation with a parent lecture.
Creating healthy communication habits early on will give you a greater chance of keeping the lines of communication open into the teen years. Two adjustments parents can make to improve communication with their children are to practice being present and being attentive listeners.
One final thought. Children learn by example, so making the effort to be a good communicator will rub off on your children. Positive communication is a key to creating and keeping a healthy relationship with your kids.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.