Communicating with Family
Growing up, I always had chores to do around the house, and as a young child, I was heavily supervised by my mom. As I got older, I was given more and more responsibility, and I embraced this until I was about eleven or twelve at which point I started staying home alone during the summer. At least once a week, my mom would say, “Please clean up the house today. Just do anything you see that needs to be done.” With these instructions, I might wash the dishes in the sink or do a load or two of laundry, but this never satisfied my mother. She was always so disappointed when she got home and would ask, “Why didn’t you vacuum? Why didn’t you dust? Why didn’t you clean the bathrooms?” My response was always the same: “Well, if you had told me to do all of those things, then obviously I would have!” Our problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to help out around the house; our problem was a lack of good communication. I have always been a list person, even as a young child, and had my mother given me a detailed checklist of what she expected, I would have knocked it out. That’s not really her communication style, though – she’s more big picture – but once she realized that I really needed a list, she started making them. Actually, we started sitting down the night before she wanted me to do housework and making lists together. Eventually, I understood exactly what she meant when she said “clean the house,” and the lists became unnecessary.
Because of technology, we are constantly in communication with other people. Whether we use Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or even text messages, it is easy to “talk” to someone else pretty much anywhere and at any time, and while these forms of communication are great to say happy birthday to Aunt Connie in Timbuktu or to ask your spouse to stop by Kroger on the way home from work to pick up eggs, they are not so great when it comes to engaging in meaningful conversations with your family. This type of communication typically happens more effectively if it is done in person, face to face, without other distractions, and it is really important for families to communicate with each other regularly.
When it comes to communicating with your family, be it your spouse or your children or the whole family, altogether, the most important step comes way before you ever actually interact with the other person. This issue that my mom and I had communicating about housework really illustrates one of the main problems many people come across when it comes to communicating with others, and that is failing to fully communicate your expectations of the other party, to the other party. Before you have a conversation with a member of your family, you have to prepare to have that interaction, so you should really spend some time thinking about exactly what it is that you want to accomplish. If this conversation is going to take place with one of your children, then it is important that you and your spouse also discuss the issue first to make sure that your expectations align before you pass that information on to the child. Figuring out what it is that you want the other party to walk away understanding will really help you to be clear and concise during your conversation.
Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone is different; thus, everyone communicates differently, even children who share your DNA. The way we communicate most effectively also depends upon other factors like our age, our gender and our maturity level. You’re going to communicate differently with your spouse than you do with your own parents. Likewise, you’re going to communicate differently with your toddler than you are with your teenager. You also have to consider that the way you prefer to communicate may not suit your children. We all learn very differently. I am a visual person; if I see something written down, I get it, but other people are very auditory – all they need is to hear something, and they understand information best that way. Other people learn best kinesthetically, which means that they need to be physically engaged while attaining information for it to best stick. This might mean that your teenaged son will hear you best while you shoot basketballs in the driveway or that your six-year-old daughter may listen better while you color pictures at the kitchen table. Now, if you’re an auditory learner, it may appear to you that a kinesthetic learner is not paying attention while you’re talking to him or her, but that isn’t the case at all. This is why it’s important to try different methods with your spouse and your children to determine which works best for each member of the family and adapt accordingly.
Kevin and Kristin Edelblute, who have three children, Caleb (13), Kayleigh (11), and Alex (8), know how difficult it can be to effectively communicate with each other as well as their children while maintaining jobs and homework and hectic schedules, but they also know how important this is, and they shared some of their strategies for making this work. They sometimes have “family meetings” where all five of them gather together to discuss important issues that are currently impacting their family, but they also practice one-on-one time with each child to discuss “schedules, opportunities, trade-offs, workloads, [and] expectations.” Kristin says they are very fluid in how they approach these conversations and that they typically happen when the need and the time arise instead of scheduling them. She also says that this approach works best to accommodate each child because these conversations can be tailored to their different “ages, stages, and personalities.” Kristin and Kevin also know that it’s important for the two of them to maintain open and constant communication with each other in order to lead their family effectively. On Sunday nights, they look at the whole week ahead to make sure they are both up-to-date on what’s happening, and then they utilize the time each night after their kids go to bed to figure out how to make it through the next twenty-four hours. Kristin explains, “We typically spend a few minutes every night talking about what just happened and what is about to happen.” The Edelblutes also know how important it is to really consider what the other person is saying and feel that listening can be as important as talking. Likewise, disconnecting and reassessing also play a role in communicating effectively. Kristin says, “If you never take the time to stop and look up, you will never know if you are still on the right track.” They also note that being flexible is key to establishing good communication practices. Kristin and Kevin recognize that “life is constantly changing, especially when you have kids thrown in the mix. What works for you one year won’t work the next.”
Communicating with your family can be daunting, especially when everyone is always sobusy, but it really is important to talk often and meaningfully to those closest to you whom you do life with on a daily basis. Each of our staff members who work with our preschoolers, children, and teens also weighed in on this topic, and you’ll find their tips for communicating with specific age groups included here, as well. Take the time to try some of these approaches with your own children and develop a communication style that works best for you. Just spending this quality time together talking about life and expectations and struggles will really strengthen your bond as a family and will help you all feel more connected.
Charity’s Tips for Parents of Preschoolers
- Get down on their level. Stoop down, sit on the floor, lift them up to your face, or hold them in your lap. Make eye contact with them so that when they look at you, they know that you think they are important and that what you are saying is likewise important.
- Speak to your preschoolers often. Talk to your young children frequently, even those who are not yet speaking because they learn to speak by hearing you. Also, speak clearly so that they can hear your words. (And while you are at it, read books to them aloud. It not only helps them to develop their verbal skills, but will instill in them a love for reading.)
- Use concrete language. Say exactly what you mean because preschoolers cannot understand abstractions. If you say something like, “Jesus is in my heart,” they will think that Jesus is literally in your heart, and they will wonder how a grown man can fit into such a small space!
- Make it a habit from their earliest days to say “I love you” and to say it often. They are going to need to hear it from you on a daily basis for the rest of your lives so get in the habit of saying it from day 1.
Leah Frances' Tips for Parents of Children
- Listen to their stories, body language, and inflection for how they are feeling and how they process events.
- Avoid the “20 questions” routine. Ask open-ended questions that facilitate dialogue rather than “yes or no” answers.
- Give them choices. Rather than always dictating what they must do in the order they must do it, allow your child to prioritize and choose tasks or responsibilities. This develops decision making skills and gives them a little freedom while still obeying you.
- Be a source of encouragement. In addition to discipline, be sure to encourage your child in the small and big events.
- Be available. Be present physically and emotionally for your child. You never know when questions or life changing conversations may happen!
Neil’s Tips for Parents of Teens
from Dr. Jim Burns’s article, “Improving Communication with your Teenager”
Make mealtime family time. A large amount of research has shown that teenagers who dine regularly at home with their families are more satisfied with life. They are better students, are less likely to be sexually promiscuous, and tend to be much less involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Families that dine together regularly are more connected to one another. Why? It’s all about the communication that happens around the dinner table. Hectic schedules make dining together difficult, but the rewards make this a family tradition to cherish.
Make bedtime communication time. I found that one of the best times to have good communication with my teens was their bedtime. This was a carryover from their younger years when we tucked them into bed and said a prayer. When the teens were in bed but not asleep, I found them more in tune with talking about their day or their problems or whatever was on their mind. The relaxed atmosphere seems to work well for good communication. This is the type of communication that is foundational for the other times when you have to have a more difficult conversation. Try not to have those tougher conversations always at the same time or in the same place.
Have parent-child dates or hangout times. By the time kids are teenagers, they are very focused on their friends and peers. They are establishing their identities apart from mom and dad, but most are willing to do something fun with their parents; they still like to eat or shop. My habit was to have a monthly date with each of my children. They got to pick the experience, within financial reason. For them it mainly had to do with food. Times like these create a relaxed atmosphere where communication comes easier.
Walk around the block. My good friend John Townsend, author and speaker extraordinaire, regularly took his sons on a walk around the block. At first they would complain, he said, but about the second time around the block “the floodgates of communication would open.” Do whatever it takes to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
Listen more, talk less. A great deal of communication is listening. Listening is the language of love. We parents can have a difficult time really listening to our children. It often seems easier to lecture and scold, but the results aren’t the same as with listening. I’ve learned that sometimes my kids just wanted to talk, and they really didn’t want me to share my opinion. I had to learn to quit answering all their questions before they asked them. For older teens, it might help if you ask their permission to share your opinion, saying something like, “Would you mind if I shared with you my perspective?” This gives them a feeling that you really care for them. Even when it comes to conflict, a principle John Rosemond [family psychologist and author] shared has the best results: “The fewer words a parent uses, the more authoritative the parent sounds. The fewer words a parent uses, the clearer the instruction.”