When I teach parenting classes, there is always at least one parent who mentions trouble communicating with their children. There are a lot of different reasons why communication barriers are metaphorically built between parent and child. These issues need to be addressed at some point, but there are things you can do to start lowering those walls before they become almost insurmountable.
Fair warning, if you have problems communicating, this will take a lot of time and effort on your part. You will have to be patient, persistent and change some bad habits. You may have to spend a lot of time in scripture and prayer to handle your conversations in the ways God would want. If you want your children to be faithful, productive Christians as adults, however, you absolutely must do this difficult work. If not, it may be very difficult for them to grow up to be who God wants them to be.
You may already be doing some of these things and just need to add the others. These are not necessarily sequential, although an effort was made to address them in a somewhat logical manner.
- Ask your child what he or she believes is the reason the two of you have difficulties communicating. Emphasize that you want your child to be honest, but respectfully so. In other words, describe the issues without calling names, etc. At this point, listen and take notes if necessary. Do not respond – especially if you feel defensive or angry. Ask for time to consider what was said and to pray about it. Thank your child for being honest with you – even if you feel like crying or getting angry.
- Apologize and state what you will change to improve communication in the future. Chances are your child will need to make some changes, too. Right now though, your child needs to know he or she was heard and you are willing to do your part. Those things you don’t agree with in your child’s assessment, for now just seek to understand. “Can you help me understand” is a great way to start. Sometimes you might agree if a better explanation is given or you may understand how to give a better reply. Once again, becoming defensive or angry at this point will shut down the process. If you believe your child is being unrealistic or excessively harsh about a point, merely state that you would like to revisit that particular point at a later date.
- Explain to your child that you will both need to put in some effort to improve communication between you, but you want to start with easy conversations. Ask your child whether he or she would prefer these first conversations to be written or verbal. Set aside a special time for these regular talks or agree to switch the same blank journal with questions and answers back and forth at specific times. Try not to go more than a few days between attempts. You are working to establish better habits, so every day is ideal.
- Find questions that will help you get to know each other, reveal new things about each of you, but are basically non- threatening. You can find lists of potential questions online. They can be silly or serious, secular or spiritual, but in general should make you feel closer by knowing each other’s answers.
- Don’t be afraid to share what life was like for you at their age – but honestly. This is not a time to brag about all the laws you broke, nor is it the time to make yourself look perfect. Share some of those silly, somewhat embarrassing moments that happen to all of us when we are growing up. Rather than losing respect for you, they will begin to know and love you as a real person.
- Spend time together doing activities, like hiking, that make talking easier. You don’t have to pepper your child with questions… just let the conversation flow.
- Listen actively and respond thoughtfully. You cannot allow anything to distract you from what your child is saying, or you will have to begin the entire process again. The next time will be even more difficult. Think before responding to anything your child says or asks. This is not the time for flip, poorly thought out comments.
- When your child begins to open up and share with you, do not over react. This is a critical point in the process. Your child is beginning to trust you again, but if you over react, the communication may cease and be even more difficult to begin again. If the issue does need to be addressed or corrected, ask for time to think and pray before responding.
- Be respectful of one another when speaking to each other. This means no yelling, name calling, cursing. It also means avoiding “you are” statements and words like “always” and “never”.
- Ask your child for the “hot button” words and phrases you use and stop using them. We all tend to say the same things when angry. For those living with us, those little catch phrases can just add to the annoyance. Make the effort to change your words and there is one less thing to make a conversation even more stressful.
- Avoid power struggles – even verbal ones. These are your child’s attempts to make you a peer instead of a parent. The key is staying as calm as possible and refusing to play the game. At times it may mean taking a break from the conversation for both of you to calm down and talking again later.
- In severe cases, you may need a mediator or a professional counselor to help you. If you keep trying the things above and things aren’t at least slowly improving, you may need professional help. Don’t give up, get help.
Communication between you and your children is essential to Christian parent well. When it breaks down, you must be the one who initiates the effort to improve it. If not, you may one day find you and your children are strangers.