Let’s talk. Nurturing Healthy Communication.
As parents, we are responsible to create and nurture a healthy culture of communication in our homes. Children are mini-mirrors of what we do, what we say, what we permit and what we protect. Home and family lay vital foundations for future patterns of healthy (or otherwise) communication.
What is a healthy culture of communication?
A healthy culture is evident at home when children feel safe to share the spectrum of their lives, without fear of rejection or loss of relationship. Where children fear that sharing the content of their souls will result in the withdrawal of love, they stop talking.
Here are some lampposts to illuminate your way as you nurture healthy communication in your home and family:
1. Resist the temptation to overreact.
I remember one evening when my son was in year 5, just before I kissed him goodnight, he innocently asked me a horrifically detailed question about abortion. During his day at school, the teacher had delved far too deeply into the discussion and shared graphic details with the class. I was so angry, I wanted to scream. Why would you burden my child with this kind of information? School is supposed to be a safe place for kids to learn as appropriate. As a mum, I knew that if I channeled any of that anger toward my son, he would feel it (even if I said the right words). I knew If I wasn’t incredibly careful to stay calm, I could inadvertently communicate that he couldn’t talk to me about his concerns without receiving an angry response in return. We wanted our kids to know that they could talk to us about anything. That means anything. The good, the bad, the ugly. We don’t have the luxury of overreacting.
2. Affirm communication, separate consequences.
If your child does the wrong thing and confesses it too you, make sure you affirm the communication, the relationship and your love for them. Something like this…’thank you for sharing with me that you stole, hit, took, kicked….etc.…I know it can be hard to tell someone when you haven’t done the right thing’. As parents, the temptation is to focus on what they have done and punish them. Confessing is not a natural or comfortable activity for any of us to engage in. This does not mean that you shouldn’t link the behaviour to necessary consequences, but just make sure you are intentional to affirm them.
3. Show up when they are speaking.
Listen to your children. Be present. Put your phone down, turn off the screens, stop what you are doing. Life is happening and every moment you are not listening, you are silently screaming at them that you are not interested in what they have to say.
4. Take them seriously.
When your child tells you something that should be taken seriously, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY! One afternoon, my children got bullied on the bus by a bigger kid and arrived home very distressed. As they told me what happened, I comforted and encouraged them. I then documented what they said very carefully and took the children through my plan of action to resolve the situation. The kids knew exactly what was going to happen next and the process we would follow. I took the matter to the school the next day with all the facts I had. I took them through the process to deal with the incident in a way that protected and informed them. I let them see that I was appropriately angry on their behalf but calm in approaching the situation. My children never doubted that they could tell me something serious and I would give it full weight. When children feel safe, they are safe to share.
5. Give them the response they need.
This is especially important as your children move into the teenage years. So often I have slipped into ‘problem solving mode’, only to realise too late that they just wanted a listening ear. We can get so used to solving their problems for the first 12 years of their lives that we forget they might need something different in their current season. Ask yourself this question: what do they need from me right now? Empathy? Compassion? Silence? Validation? Encouragement? Give them the response they need.
6. Ask for their opinion.
I often ask my children for their opinion. They are adults now but I have been asking for their opinions (with discretion), since they were small. They never cease to astound and inspire me with their responses. Children love to be asked for what they think by their parents. Asking them gives them an opportunity to share and you an opportunity to gauge the formation of their understanding and insight.
7. Walk quietly alongside them as they change seasons.
Part of growing up is not sharing everything with your parents. When your children become teenagers, its normal for them to begin to differentiate between who they are and who you are. In this process, they can stop sharing as much as they used to. Go with the flow on this one, this is a season in their lives. Walk with them and be fully available when they are ready to talk.
May you enjoy the life-long benefits of healthy communication in your home and family.