Poor communication is often at the heart of most relationship problems. This dynamic is especially apparent in parent-child relationships. In most cases, you can predict the quality of this relationship based upon the communication styles within the family. Clearly, most parents love their children, perhaps more than anything. Many of us, however, get a “needs improvement” in our ability to effectively articulate these and other feelings in our words and actions. The weaker we are at effectively communicating with our children, the greater our conflicts. If we were to videotape our interactions with our children, we would be disappointed to see how much of our communication is negative or critical. It is clearly much more natural to catch our children being bad, than catching them being good. Whether we simply expect good behavior or take it for granted, our lack of positive feedback negatively impacts the relationship, our child’s self-esteem, as well as increasing the likelihood that the positive behavior will continue.
While there are a variety of effective communication techniques that can help parents strengthen their relationships with their children, there are none as important as being a good listener. Too often, parents become one-way communicators, relying upon lecturing, which rarely has the desired outcome. The next time you have an opportunity to discuss something with your child, try the radical approach of having them do most of the talking. Instead of jumping into lecture mode, try to really listen to your child, occasionally reflecting back what you hear them saying in a nonjudgmental fashion. This allows us to also treat our children with a higher level of respect, which is important if you want your children to treat you with respect as they get older. Solutions, advice, reminders and lessons can come later. If you really listen, you can also better understand your child’s feelings, thoughts and motives, which will not only make you a better advisor but also strengthen and deepen your relationship.