Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Try New Ways to Communicate with Your Child

Parents are unique and so are their children. But there are common areas of concerns that parents can do something about. One of such areas is communication.

You probably have heard the saying that “Nobody cares about what you say unless they know you care.”

Parents who love their kids are devastated when preteens and teenagers yelled, “You don’t care!”

If you frequently get that comments from your child, no matter how old they are, pause, take a deep breath, and take some time to reflect on what is going on.  You love your child but how come she or he does not get it?

Does it surprise you that many children and teenagers complain about parents nagging them, being angry and critical of them, not listening to them, or not trusting them? If you have the tendency of reasoning with them but getting nowhere, and if you fear that your relationship is going down the drain, restore your hope by checking whether you could communicate better.

The Bible says, "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).

Mignon McLaughlin, journalist once said, "We hear only half of what is said to us, understand only half of that, believe only half of that, and remember only half of that."

When our minds are distracted (e.g. "hey, what is there for lunch?") or we are preparing for a comeback (e.g. "no no no, you get it wrong!"), we are at best half listening. Even worse, we interrupt the other person in mid sentence. In frustration, they interrupt us back hoping their points can be understood. And the vicious cycle continues.

The four-sides communication model by Friedemann Schulz von Thun reminds us that every message has four sides (e.g. facets and aspects): fact, self-revealing, relationship, and appeal.

Not surprisingly, most people put different emphasis on different side(s), depending on who they are talking with and how much time we have.

Which sides do you think are most often communicated by parents?

Facts and appeal.

That's right! For many valid reasons (e.g. we don't have time, we have to get things done, ...), the common parent-child communication includes just facts and appeals.

"It's late. Go to bed now!"
"You have a test tomorrow, stop playing game and start studying."
"You are not getting enough sleep. Don't waste time on the Internet."
"Your grade is getting worse and worse. You are always chatting and doing homework at the same time. Change your study habit."

The list can go on and on. When I talked about the four sides in workshops, most parents admitted that they seldom include relationship (e.g. "I love you") and self-revelation (e.g. "I worry about you not getting enough sleep") while communicating with their kids.

When not listened to by their parents, children gradually lose their desires to talk. Some of them get angry and yell back in power struggles; others hold everything inside and become more and more depressed, withdrawn and isolated. Either ways, they have given up talking with parents. Communication channels are broken.

Many parent-child relationships will improve when parents start listening to the thoughts, feelings, needs and dreams of their child. A few years ago, the Family Keepers magazine published my article on the subject from a teenager’s perspective. You may read it in English or Chinese via the links in the bottom of this post.

Although it is written from a teenager's point of view, it probably applies to adult children, pre-teens and some school-age children as well. Whatever relational challenge you are facing, communication is always one of the key issues. Remember to practice active listening and share four sides of messages assertively with respect. God bless you and yours!

You may read "Mom and Dad, Please Listen to Me!"
in English: http://parentingabcblog.blogspot.com/2016/05/mom-and-dad-please-listen-to-me.html
in Chinese: http://winnischiang.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html

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