No one likes to be nagged. Yet many parents resort to nagging as a primary–though negative–way to communicate their feelings and desires with family members. Positive communication is vital for maintaining a healthy family. Successful families talk and listen. Good communication takes work, but if you employ some of the following tips, you’ll be on the road to improving your communication skills and the health of your family.
• Listen more, talk less. How good a listener are you with your teen? Even when you are convinced that you are right and they are wrong? Listening is the language of love. The easy route is scolding and lecturing, but the results are not the same as when we listen. Sometimes teens just want to talk when they really aren’t looking for a parent’s opinion. Wise parents will learn to quit answering all of their teen’s questions before she asks them! For older teens, it might help if you ask their permission to share your opinion, saying something like, “Would you mind if I shared my perspective?” This sends your teen the clear message that you respect and care for her. When it comes to conflict, John Rosemond has this to say: “The fewer words a parent uses, the more authoritative the parent sounds. The fewer words a parent uses, the clearer the instruction.”1
Good listening skills include:
– Give your undivided attention
– Look beyond the content of the words and pay attention to tone and body language
– Maintain an accepting and open attitude
– Use good questions to help clarify your understanding.
• Watch your own tone and body language when you speak. Your words only convey part of the message. Your tone and body language usually communicate more than the words themselves. For example, saying “Good job” when your arms are folded across your chest, while you are rolling your eyes and frowning, actually communicates something other than “Good job.” Do your best to make sure the message you send is the message you intend.
• Avoid the silent treatment. Silence can wreak havoc on communication with your teen. If you need to process your thoughts before you respond verbally, always communicate the purpose of your silence. For example, you could say, “I need some time to consider how to respond. Let’s talk about this after dinner.”
• Take a time out when emotions are running amok. When emotions are at extremes, it’s always a good idea to take a cooling-off period to ensure better communication can happen later.
• Break the no-talk rule before it breaks your family. Healthy families talk on a regular basis. Both parents and teenagers will experience times when they don’t want to talk. That’s a given. But make sure these times are the exception, not the rule. Be intentional to create a culture of conversation in your home.
• Make family mealtimes conversation times. There is beginning to be a trend of families trying to eat more meals together. But with your family’s hectic schedule, it can be tempting to quickly eat and run, moving on to the next activity. So be proactive to go beyond merely eating. Take advantage of having the family gathered together to engage in conversation.
• Make bedtime conversation time. One of the best times to have good communication with teens is bedtime. Yes, bedtime. This might not be the optimal time for you, but remember it’s not about you. It’s about communicating with your teenager. And teenagers’ body clocks are naturally wired to stay up later. When teens are in bed but not asleep, they will likely be more ready to talk about their day or their problems or whatever is on their mind. This relaxed atmosphere is a springboard for good communication. And these more relaxed conversations are foundational for the other times when you need to have more serious conversations.
• Have parent-teen dates or hangout times. By the time kids hit mid-adolescence, they are very focused on their friends and peers. But most are willing to do something fun with their parents; they still like to eat or shop. I recommend having at least a monthly date with your teenager. Let her or him pick the activity. These are great opportunities for casual conversation, and sometimes the time will be right for more serious discussion. But in all cases these experiences will help build a foundation of healthy communication between you and your teen.
• Walk around the block. My good friend John Townsend regularly took his sons on walks around the block. At first they would complain, but about the second lap around the block “the floodgates of communication would open.” Whether it is a walk around the block, a cup of coffee at a local café, or shooting hoops together, the bottom line is the same: do whatever it takes to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
1John Rosemond, The Well-Behaved Child (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 25.
Excerpted from Jim’s upcoming book, “Understanding Your Teen: Shaping Their Character, Facing Their Realities” to be released this fall.