COMMUNICATING WITH CHILDREN: FOR PARENTS
Shady Oak believes in preparing children for adulthood by building on “6 Pillars”: Connection, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and [Capable] Problem Solving. Tune in over the next several weeks as we explore each Pillar in practical detail.
“Failure to communicate” makes for many a memorable story:
- Parent tells child, “You can play out back if you’re careful not to get your clothes dirty”; looks out fifteen minutes later to see clothes neatly folded on back-porch swing, and child, stripped to the skin, digging in a mud puddle.
- Parent sees cluttered bed and dusty shelves, scolds, “I told you to clean your room!” Child protests, “I did! I picked up all the toys near the door!”
- Child spends an hour finishing chores and homework, goes to television room for a break. Two minutes later, parent appears: “Don’t you ever do anything but veg out?”
While children are as adept as anybody at finding loopholes in “official” instructions, many failures to communicate are perfectly innocent. So the first rule of family communications is:
Assume Good Intentions
Starting with, “Why are you so lazy/uncooperative/sloppy?” will knock anyone into defensive mode and deafen them to whatever follows. So will stating even basic facts in accusatory tones. When you come across what looks like disobedience, take a deep breath to defuse that anger impulse; be ready to accept your share of responsibility for any misunderstanding; and then ask the kids what happened.
There will be fewer misunderstandings to begin with, if you:
Use Specific Language
“Clean up” can mean anything from “put your own plate in the dishwasher” to “give this room a floor-to-ceiling scrubbing”—and if “clean up” is all you say, you have little right to complain if your kids opt for the lowest-effort interpretation. If a certain standard of cleanliness is important to you, spell it out: “I’d appreciate it if you would put all the condiments away and wipe the table with a damp cloth.”
Ask the Kids to Clarify What You’ve Said
Not just to repeat you word for word, but to state in their own words what they heard you saying. You may realize that an automatic-to-you step was left unspoken, or that they’ve never heard the word “squeegee” before.
To further head off misunderstandings:
Have House Rules and Chore Assignments
The more routine something is to everybody involved, the fewer the communications hazards. Allow everyone in the family to have input: kids are not only more willing to follow rules they helped make, they understand those rules more clearly from the beginning.
Remember That Communication Is a Two-Way Street
Even official “lecturers,” if they know their business, allow their listeners to ask questions and contribute. So pay attention (with your ears and your eyes) to your kids’ side of every conversation. Repeat it back in your own words to be certain you’re clear. Never interrupt, pass judgment, or be “too busy” to listen. You’ll be glad you learned the habit, when your children become adolescents and need advice on more serious matters than what defines a clean bedroom!
Other “Six Pillars” Articles:
Connecting With Kids: For Parents
Connecting With Kids: For Teachers