Communicating with your children can be a daunting task, whether you are trying to impart morals and values on them or simply trying to get information about the date of the school concert. One parent says she feels "like we speak different languages!" The most common complaint from parents about communicating with their children? Asking "How was school?" and getting "Good" in return. If you're laughing because you've had that interaction before, use these tips for opening up the lines of communication between you and your child.
Spend time together every day This may mean sitting together for dinner, watching a TV show together, or saying a prayer as a family before bedtime. Any time your child feels connected to the whole family his feelings of trust and security are strengthened. Time spent traveling in the car doesn't count! Although we are all very busy, find a few moments to sit face to face with your family and talk about the day's events.
Schedule individual time Scheduling "Mom and Child" or "Dad and Child" time allows your more reserved child an opportunity to open up. It gives you a chance to really attend to your child's body language and facial expressions, which can often relay more than just her words can. Scheduling one on one time shows that you value your child's individuality and are willing to take time out to give her your undivided attention.
Stay current You don't need to watch Saturday morning cartoons each week or lock the radio on the pop station you dislike, but keep in touch with your child's interests in music, television, and fashion. The less you know about your child's day-to-day activities, the more distant a figure you are for him. This also gives you an opportunity to monitor the appropriateness of what they are viewing and may lead to more discussions. Remember to give him some personal freedom- hovering can drive children to become more withdrawn.
Share your problems For example, say you made plans to go to a movie with one friend but forgot and made plans to go for coffee with another friend the same day. Ask your child to help you problem solve. Who should you reschedule with and what should you say? Never give specific examples or use names; we know children have trouble keeping secrets and you don't want your business all over town. You can also share problems you had when you were a child. This shows your child that everyone has decisions they struggle with and makes you more relatable in their eyes.
Keep a diaryHave a journal in which you and your child can write notes to each other. You can have a special hiding spot so only the two of you know where it is. This prevents the temptation for siblings to sneak information that was not meant to be shared. You can write happy thoughts like "I thought about our last vacation today" or questions like "How are you feeling about Friday's math test?" This gives your child the chance to think about her response or ask difficult questions she may not want to ask in person.
Whenever opening a conversation with your child ask specific questions, such as "What was your least favorite thing you did at school today?" or "Tell me one friend you played with today." A lot of things happened at school today; asking for one detail allows your child to recall a specific event and may allow the conversation to expand.
Having open communication does not mean you are your child's friend. You are still the parent and you still have to discipline when they make poor choices. The idea is that open communication offers your children the opportunity to share their problems with you and look to you as someone who can help them make good decisions.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.