How to foster good communication with your child

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Good communication helps children open up about their thoughts and feelings so that they are able to make better life choices. And it’s not just what you say that counts, but how you say it that makes all the difference.

The older children get, the more they refrain from communicating with their parents, so it’s vital that you start speaking with your child from early on.

Good communication has many benefits, such as a relationship based on honesty and trust. Parents who encourage their children to express their feelings are more likely to raise resilient children.

By paying more attention to how you communicate with your children, you will strengthen your bond with them and find easier to deal with difficult communication situations such as the following.

How to deal with difficult communication situations

“My child talks back to me.”

Children learn to be cheeky or rude by getting away with this behaviour at home. If this is unusual behaviour your child may just be having a bad day. If the behaviour persists, however, the parents need to assess what is going on in the relationship while continuing to clarify what is and is not acceptable.

Smacking or shouting is just not effective, and may discourage open communication. It is much more useful to get down to your child’s level, look him in the eye and calmly explain what you don’t like about their behaviour. Time out can also be an appropriate consequence.

While it’s important to be firm and consistent regarding unacceptable behaviour, don’t forget to praise your children as well. Catch them doing something right and acknowledge it.

“I have to say everything 5 times!”

All parents are familiar with the "selective hearing” problem, when children appear to ignore or quickly forget instructions so you end up nagging them all day. But nagging is futile; a child who is constantly nagged eventually switches off.

What is more effective is to establish and maintain eye-contact with your child, and state firmly but kindly what is required and what the consequences will be if the child fails to comply.

If your child is not listening to or obeying you, analyse how you are communicating. Sometimes children are just distracted, other times they don’t listen because of the tone of your voice or because they don’t feel heard. If you want your child to listen to you:

  • Make sure you have his attention; if necessary get down to his eye level.
  • Don’t shout or nag. Speak firmly and be specific.
  • Make sure your demands are realistic, fair and necessary
  • Follow through consistently with praise and consequences
  • Work on your own listening skills.

“My children don’t open up to me.”

One minute your toddler is babbling to you nine to the dozen, next thing he’s a tween who answers your conversational gambits with a shrug or a “Whatever.”

Although it’s frustrating to be in this situation, the key is to start small. Your child won’t feel comfortable if you suddenly start digging for information about his life or initiating intense conversations.

Instead, open up communication by chatting casually about various topics, using indirect methods.

Establish regular private time with your children – even if it’s just on the way to soccer practice or a round-up of the day at bedtime. And ensure that you model good communication too, by speaking to your children about how you feel about things.

“My children are glued to their cellphones!”

Although it’s important for children to have their own time to socialise with friends, cellphones can put the brakes on family time. Set rules for proper usage.

For example, draw up a list together of places where cellphones are not appropriate - but don’t ban them completely; they can improve communication with your child! Many parents use text messaging as a way to let their children know they are thinking of them, while gaining access into their world.

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