5 Ways to Improve Communication with your Kids
Communication is a key element for any relationship you have. When my children were younger, I thought it would get easier. I was wrong. You go from one playing field into another and another and another, depending on their current development phase. In each new field, I face new challenges and a multitude of questions. One of the biggest challenges I face is learning how to communicate with someone two generations younger than me.
We look at children as the ‘other’. We don’t really see them as people yet. They’re still ‘in-progress, un-finished’, not fully realized individuals. Since they’re mostly naïve, we do some or most of their thinking for them. They don’t know it, but a lot of their thoughts, choices, actions are not their own or didn’t stem from their own independent thoughts or free-will.
Kids today mostly see us, the parents, as obsolete. We’re not really ‘swag’ or ‘chill’ in their book, well maybe some of us are, it largely dependents on what we consider relevant and are you the parent, keeping up with modern times. I’m constantly reminded how un-chill I am.
I admit, most of the dialect, sounds like a different language to me. I’m a little older than the older millennials, but I don’t speak their language either. My daughters were born in generation Z and I find communicating with them even more incoherent than conversing with millennials. They’re relentless in trying to get me to behave right. I shouldn’t say the word ‘cool’; I should say ‘lit’ instead. Mostly, I’m ignored because I don’t speak their language, but what concerned me the most was not that we barely spoke the same language, but that instead of taking advice from me, they would rather listen to someone who speaks their language fluently.
Although I’m severely outdated in their eyes, I’ve found a way to communicate with them. These are my top 5 ways of breaking down the communication barrier.
Read between the lines of communication
Miscommunication is a common occurrence between parents and children. This mostly stems from the generational divide and not fully understanding the needs of youths today. Not to sound obvious, but communication styles change as kids get older. When they were toddlers, they know fewer words, but they have a lot to say and they want to talk all the time. As they get older, not so much. You learn that while they’ve gained more vocabulary words; they use them sparingly. They don’t communicate unless they need to and that usually means that they want something. Often you learn to read their body language and or facial expressions.
When my daughter comes home and flops on the couch before taking her shoes off, mumbles hello, then stares hauntingly at her phone, I know that I need to tread lightly. If she walks down the stairs before noon on a Saturday, I know that she’s getting ready to ask me if she can go somewhere on her own or with her friends. When she sits next to me and turns her face to me, I know that she wants to talk about something serious. Typically, it goes like “mom, you need to stop” whatever it is I did or said to make her angry.
Listen not preach
I would reprimand and lecture or preach to assert my authority and try to give the impression that I know more than they do, naturally, because I’ve lived longer. I learned that this method of communication with my children doesn’t work, especially when it’s one-sided. We expect that children will sit down and listen to our accumulation of wisdom as a result of innumerable mistakes we’ve made growing up. They have zero interest in our recount of stupidity. In fact, it only serves to solidify in their minds that we’re absolute idiots.
Relinquishing some control
There is no greater loss of control than living with an infant. When you become a new mom, you feel like your life has become topsy-turvy because it feels as though you no longer have control over your schedule, sleep patterns, comings and goings or even your body. After you’ve eventually gotten over the fear of inadvertently killing the new baby, you develop a new syndrome called ‘over-protection.’ It doesn’t stem from a nurturing instinct; it stems from fear. I have learned to let go, to a degree, of my fear of something or everything going wrong.
As kids get older, they demand more independence. Naturally, we put up a resistance to this transition because it’s always too soon, and we’re not ready yet. We want them to remain kids for as long as possible and that means controlling their every move.
When my daughter started high school, and I learned that she needed to take public transportation, my fears kicked in. Wild thoughts saturated my brain, and I flew into panic mode. “Take public transportation?!?”, “I’ll drive you to school then.” Her response was “No way!”, “You’re not driving me to school every day” She later confessed that she didn’t know what she was doing on the first day she had to take two buses and a train to school, but she used her instincts and figured it out.
Staying out of it
When my kids are arguing with each other or one of their friends, I used to get involved and try to resolve this issue. Once, a friend of my daughters gave her an ultimatum "If you want to be friends with us, do something about your mom."
My daughter had a frenemy. When she was little, I often took it upon myself to get in the middle of their on/off friendship which only made things worse. I thought I needed to protect her from the bully who would tell the other kids on the block to not play with her. She would see them running around outside and no-one would come knocking for her to come outside and play. It hurt me to see her sad and sitting in her room while the other kids were out having fun. I wanted to eradicate her pain, so I would try to talk to the kids. I learned that me trying to fix everything only stalled her progress in learning the skills of resolving conflicts with her friends.
Controlling my anger
One of the quickest ways to get your kids to never speak to you or lose trust in you is to react to every negative thing they do or say.
On the first day of the new year, amid writing my new year’s resolutions. No, I wasn’t, but I digress. I opened my email only to see that I received a letter from my daughter’s math teacher. He was grading papers and at the top of my daughter’s paper was a very inappropriate word that she substituted for her surname. She did it as a prank, but the teacher was insulted and threatened to put it in her permanent record. First, I replied to the teacher with an apology. I needed time to sort out my feelings before I approached her. I only had one question “Why?” The obvious answer was that she was being a teenager, and it was a sign of rebellion. When I finally approached her, I was angry on the inside, but I was cool on the outside. Not only did I get a full confession, but remorse for her reckless action.
We don’t always understand what kids are going through let alone what they’re talking about half the time. We can only do our best to navigate these mystifying waters with compassion, tact and an open mind.