I’ve met several hundred families over the past decade as a couple and family therapist and I realize that parents share the same goal: we desperately want to see our children happy and healthy. Simple. The goal that is.
Our path to getting there is often wrought with frustration, uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy. We’ve all been there, and even with all my clinical experience with this parenting stuff, I am no exception. I am convinced that parenting is the toughest and most rewarding job on the planet. Kudos to all of you who commit yourselves to being the best possible parent! I journey along with you!
I am regularly asked to speak at public schools all over the city. My speaking events are mainly for parents. I guide them in how to foster skills such as confidence and self-discipline (the cornerstones of emotional intelligence) in their children. It is an invaluable gift to be in a room full of parents that allow themselves to be shaped by new ideas and are willing to learn new skills. I’ve learned a tremendous amount along the way and wanted to share with you what I’ve found to be the key to meaningful and lasting relationships within families: Communication.
PARENTING TIPS ABOUT COMMUNICATION
Influence Rather than Control
As children get older, we have increasingly less control over them. When our kids are young, we can (to some degree) control what they eat/drink, what they wear, where they go, what they watch on t.v, etc. As children get older we have less and less control over their choices. This is a tough pill to swallow as parents, but it’s the hard truth and we need to begin accepting it!
Shift Your Parenting Style
As we begin to “lose control”, it is critical that we shift our parenting style. Too often, I find parents using the same strategies with a 16 year old that they used when their child was 6 years old. It doesn’t work and almost always guarantees conflict. As our children grow up and have a greater range of choices, we have to rely on our ability to INFLUENCE decision-making, rather than CONTROL decision-making. If you continue to parent your 16-year old as if she was still 6, you are fighting a losing battle.
The ability to influence children is largely dependent on one factor: TRUST. Without a foundation of openness and trust, it is impossible to be part of your child’s inner world, let alone influence their choices. Trust is built through open and honest communication. Without creating an environment where open and honest conversation can happen, any parenting strategy falls flat. As parents, it is our job to create safety for our children, not only physically, but also emotionally. There is no greater foundation for success out there, than having a safe haven at home.
PARENTING IDEA: Trust Increases Influence
The idea here is that open communication about experiences and emotions become part of the fabric of your family. The more normative these conversations become, the easier it will be for your child to share openly with you. The more they share, the greater your opportunity to develop trust in the relationship. The more trust is developed in the parent-child relationship, the greater your influence in helping your child make healthy decisions.
PARENTING STRATEGY: Start Talking
GOAL: increase your influence by creating a foundation of open communication
TASK: sit down with your child regularly to help him/her connect experience with emotion
Here are some questions to guide your conversation:
What was the best part of your week?
What was the toughest part of your week?
How are you doing overall? (have child rate their sense of well-being on a scale of 1-10)
How am I doing as a parent? (have child rate their relationship with you on a scale of 1-10)
Use a feeling chart to help your child identify emotions for each experience (sample feeling charts can be found online). Teaching kids to connect experiences with their feelings helps them to process difficult emotions and prevents unhealthy coping mechanisms now and in the future.
Include yourself in the discussion as a way of modeling your expectations to your children. (parenting congruency)
Have fun with the exercise, do it often, make it natural!