Dialogue…what a struggle! Three helpful tips for better communication with your children

Dialogue…what a struggle! Three helpful tips for better communication with your children

Dialoguing with others can sometimes prove to be a difficult task, especially when it comes to dialoguing with one’s own children.

All parents have, at least once, had the following conversation with their child:

“How was school today?”

“Good”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

But what lies underneath this blessed “nothing”?

That obnoxious “nothing”

This “n-o-t-h-i-n-g” sends parents on a trip down a rabbit hole where they become a spy, trying to figure out what that “nothing” really means. The parent faces a hodgepodge of thoughts while trying to understand why that cute and sometimes all too energetic creature reduces much of his day to “nothing.”

But, come to think of it, maybe it isn’t so bizarre. Imagine coming home after work and a day full of engaging with others to find yourself inundated with questions. Wouldn't we be a little drained, too? “Nothing” might simply mean that they need to calm down before sharing and get some of their energy back. Dialogue is an art that demands patience and generosity to give time to one another. It’s an agreement between the one who is doing the asking and the one who is doing the telling. Let’s not reduce that nothingness to a lack of wanting to communicate, and let’s not make the mistake of thinking we have done our part. As the famous writer and playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote: "The only great problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

However, this should not stop us from trying new communication strategies. An “out-of-the-box” strategy might be to tell your own story first. Often, by sharing your own experiences, it allows for the other person to feel comfortable opening up¾thus, creating a dimension of dialogue rather than an interrogation.

Films: conversational tools

In a digital age like ours, we risk being overwhelmed by media and losing the art of conversation. We are constantly surrounded by sedentary children, glued to their cell phones and tablets even at the dinner table. Filling free time with YouTube videos, cell phones, and cartoons can in the long run ruin children’s ability to imagine, which is honed during these young developmental years. That is why it is important to monitor not only the content that children have access to, but also the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, leaving room for other activities, too.

This audiovisual world, however, also may offer us an important resource. If chosen wisely, a children's movie or cartoon can be a useful tool for communication, acting as a channel for discovering little kids’ inner world. After watching a cartoon or movie together with your children, it can be constructive for everyone to share their own impressions and emotions. Recalling certain scenes and asking what they felt can open the door to deeper conversations. It furthers that process of learning between parents and children which never ends.

A few tips for effective communication

Children are often “an unchartered territory” that we must try to recognize. Parents know that it takes time and patience to get to know them. But before understanding, it often takes knowledge. Children are not replicas of ourselves; they are worlds unto themselves. When we interact with them, we need to realize that they are treasures waiting to be discovered. Knowing their character is also essential for good communication. Having ascertained that each child is unique, it would be helpful to have some suggestions for effective dialogue. Consider that we don’t know everything, and, above all, each parent must have time and patience to discover and get to know their child’s character. Here are three valuable tips for bettering our dialogue with our children:

1. Test the waters to see if there is a basis for dialogue and seize the right moment. It is crucial not to overwhelm children by peppering them with questions. Rather, we should be respectful and give them space without giving in to anxiety and the want to know everything at all costs.

2. Listen, and let children feel free to express themselves without being judged. Children first learn to express their thoughts and feelings with family. They should learn, in this “mysterious space” which is family life, how to communicate their feelings without shame or fear. In listening to their children, however, parents must consider that they may have to take in information, reactions, or judgments that they don’t expect and that might upset them. Therefore, parents should work on their own emotional intelligence, which will help them to establish open, respectful dialogue with their kids.

3. Give your children your full attention. When children decide to open up and tell us something, there is nothing more important than listening to them. Children don’t settle for partial attention, and even if they don’t say it, seeing their parent listening to them while doing other things may hurt their feelings. It is important to physically show them, not only with your head, but with your whole body that they have your full attention. This gives them confidence and strengthens the parent-child relationship.

And finally, one last piece of unwritten advice. Have an abundance of patience. A parent must learn not to solve everything right away. Sometimes children need to share and talk without necessarily seeking a tangible solution.

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