By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
The way we communicate with our children today is a lot different from how our parents communicated with us. What used to be more of a one-way street is now very much two-way.
Jamilah Samian, a certified professional trainer and author of Cool Mum Super Dad and Cool Boys Super Sons, believes that in order to engage the children of today we need to give them feedback while not stifling them.
“In my time, kids looked at adults as figures of authority and knew that they had to listen to him or her without much questioning. That is not really the mindset of kids these days and it's a good thing, too.
“We want them to be able to think for themselves one day. We're not going to be there all the time for them and we can't do their thinking for them. So, if we were to think long-term, we have to train them to be able to think for themselves.
“If you keep telling them don't do this and don't do that, then how are they going to think for themselves? They need to be given enough space to define a lot of things but if there are certain things that you feel strongly about, then you need to explain to them why rather than saying 'This is the way it's always been done and you should do it this way'. They will really appreciate it if they know why,” she says.
Why you want effective communication
Outlining why we want effective communication with our children, Jamilah says, like it or not, we want to become their reference point, especially in their growing-up years.
“There are so many negative influences outside. When it comes to their decision-making moments, I'm sure all of us, no matter how open-minded we are, want them to make the 'right' decision.
“But we cannot become their reference point if we do not have effective communication with them.”
Another reason for wanting good communication is to impart our values to them. Here, values is not just about Asian or religious values. There are also values like being optimistic, personal responsibility, personal accountability, being non-discriminatory ….
The third reason is to have an enduring and endearing relationship with our children. We want a warm relationship with our children and we can only have such a relationship if we have good communication with them.
So what are the prerequisites to good communication?
- Believe. If we believe that we can have good and effective communication with our children, then we can have it.
- Attitude. If we want to enjoy good communication with our children, we need to have a positive attitude.
- Skills. It's not enough that we want a good relationship and good communication with our children. If we don't have the right skills we will be repeating communication mistakes over and over again.
- Knowledge. We have to understand ourselves, how we've been raised and we have to understand our children. Much of how we communicate depends on how we have been raised and the environment that shapes us. We need to understand who we are and why we are the person we are.
With that in mind, Jamilah outlines and explains 10 common communication mistakes that parents make:
1) Having low expectations.
If we have low expectations about the kind of communication we have with our children then we are not going to push ourselves to make it better.
2) Not being able to move forward.
This is related to the low expectations. For example, if there are some issues with our children and we keep bringing up events in the past, we are not able to transcend beyond what has happened in the past, then we are going to get stuck.
The best thing is to just tell yourself, “Today is a new day”. We just have to leave the past in the past. We need to give communication with our children a good chance every day.
We need to keep in mind that change begins with the smallest of things and when we say things could be better, it's not going to be better overnight. If communication has broken down for many years, then we cannot expect it to be better overnight.
3) Jumping to conclusions.
We should allow our children to explain the situation instead of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions.
4) Be specific.
If we are not happy about something, we need to be specific about what it is we are unhappy about rather than generalising and accusing them by saying 'You always do this' or 'You never do that'. Not being specific and using ambiguous words will lead to miscommunication and jumping to conclusions.
5) Not being sensitive to our children's emotions.
When we are tired, angry or stressed, we tend not to be effective communicators. That's not a good time to communicate and there is a risk of being insensitive to their emotions. So, if you are tired or stressed, then wait until you feel better before communicating with your child. If it's not urgent, ask your child if you can talk about it later. If it's urgent, then you'll just have to do it then and there, of course.
6) Information overload.
We tend to communicate a lot of things to our children in one breath. Sometimes, we may not be happy about certain things that our children do and for some reason we don't communicate specifically what we are unhappy with. So it just piles up and piles up until one day we are so angry that it's like a dam breaking and everything goes out and we have forgotten what the specifics are. We don't even remember what we are angry with, and that's when we make generalisations and accusations. That is always something that we need to avoid.
Be specific. Don't say, 'You are lazy, you NEVER …'.
Words like 'never' – we really have to be careful of that.
You really need to be as specific as possible – what do you want them to do.
7) Not taking the chance to listen.
They need a chance to show us what they are capable of. And as much as we love them and are concerned that they might make mistakes, mistakes are the things that make people a lot wiser. So, we need to keep our concerns, worries and anxieties in check. Sometimes we just need to let them go, listen to them and allow them to make their own mistakes.
8) Not being able to rephrase.
Rephrasing is a very effective way to communicate. Effective communication takes place when the intended message gets to the receiver. But how do we make sure that this happens, because sometimes when somebody says something we might hear it another way. If you're not sure, say something to the effect, 'Do you mean to say that …' just to make sure you are on the same page. Being able to rephrase is important, regardless of how old the child is and especially with teenagers.
9) It's not just about listening; it's also about making a connection.
If we don't make the time to connect with our child, it's just a matter of time before there will be distancing between us and our child and then we cannot build trust and respect. Without trust we cannot impart the values we really want to impart to our children.
10) If there is more than one child, we need to spend time communicating with them individually.
When we have more than one, the elder ones are often given less attention. The child's age doesn't matter. Younger and older children need attention. Spend time individually with each child. Perhaps take each one out alone – time alone with mum or dad. Rotate them on a regular basis, perhaps monthly.
Taking time to do this solves a lot of problems, even issues like sibling rivalry that crop up in many families. When we make them feel like they're somebody and not like the rest of the siblings, somehow these issues disappear. If we want them to open up more to us we need to listen more rather than talk more.
Explain to them
Jamilah advises parents to explain the situation to the children if there are financial problems or if the marriage is going through a rough patch and the child is old enough to understand.
|Jamilah: 'If something is not right with the family, children tend to think that they are the cause of it.'
“If something is not right with the family, children tend to think that they are the cause of it. One of the reasons that you need to communicate with them about things is to clear the air. For instance, if your marriage is going through a rough patch, you need to explain to your children that they are not to blame, it is just between mum and dad.
“If you're not doing well financially, some children might think that they are a burden to their parents and that if they're not around there wouldn't be this problem. You need to reassure them that they are not a burden to you, that this is temporary and that eventually you are going to weather this storm as a family.
“The best news about explaining it to them is that they will understand and they will support you.”
New communication tools
While many parents today are on Facebook and Twitter, these new tools of communication can and must never replace the face-to-face communication between parents and children, says Jamilah.
“For me communication on Facebook and Twitter between parents and children is just an addition to the communication you already have. It can never replace face-to-face communication. There are certain aspects that you don't see when you communicate on email, SMS or Facebook. You don't see the facial expression or hear the tone of the voice. I see the use of these communication tools as more positive than negative, as long as it doesn't take over your life.”
When it comes to teenagers, Jamilah advises parents against saying anything or doing anything to embarrass the child in front of his or her peers.
“As far as possible don't say anything in front of their friends, especially with adolescents. Teenagers are very conscious of what their friends think of them.”