One thing you may or may not know about me as I have worked with children since I was a child myself. I grew up in small churches teaching in the children’s classes through out my life. I spend years working in Youth Ministry both in volunteer and paid positions, was a TA in a 4th grade classroom and worked in multiple after school programs as well. Now as a father I utilize a lot of the experiences and lessons I learned from working with kids from pre-school all the way into college. Every father has a time where they struggle more than other times in their kid’s life with being able to communicate effectively. It is best practice if you can establish these habits early on and maintain them, but it is never too late to implement these techniques to improve your communication with your kids. This will only work if you really want it, because you are going to do most of the work. I will promise, that of you do the work and are patient it will yield a massive change in communicating with your child at any age.
1. Become Transparent
The first and most uncomfortable change will be living a transparent life. You kids need to see that you aren’t perfect to become comfortable with the fact that they’re not. You can call this being real or however you want to say it but Transparent is the best visual. No secrets, no skeletons hidden away. Let them see you in all your glorious imperfection.
As a bonus this allows them to see you shine as you demonstrate to them how to deal with difficulties by letting them see you struggle and overcome in a healthy way. Let them see you have to make decisions, be vulnerable and open. They will model this behavior as they observe you lead in this way which will open lines of communication in the real world and real situations
2. Become Consistent Relationally
If you aren’t actively in their world and bringing them into yours then you have no chance of them opening up to you verbally, emotionally or mentally. Think about who you talk to in your life when you need to talk. It is always someone close who is in your life or a total stranger; don’t live in a way the drives them to a stranger. You have no idea what they are feeling their vulnerable heads with and it is on you.
You cannot effectively influence their life without being constantly relational. Be in their life, be in their circles and be involved in their life. Your kids will not communicate with you in any real and meaningful way without you being Consistently in their lives.
3. Learn their Language
I have talked about the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman in some videos about relationship with your spouse. I cannot emphasize that this book will help you with EVERY relationship. You may be speaking the wrong language to your child. Every person is a combination of these 5 but definitely have a dominant one. While they are your child, it does not mean they speak the same love language.. But don’t stop there
That is the first step, now learn to communicate the same way. You have to step into their world. Does your kid draw pictures, do they text, do they game? Do it with them. Some people would say this is trying to pick up their hobbies, but it is more than that. Let me give you an example.
My wife and I started watching the show Gilmore Girls with one of our students. The lines of communicate that opened up were amazing, because we started with common ground and did something together (relational) I Started playing World of Warcraft because I had 6 students that were gamers, after they taught me to play and helped me start (that will be in tip 5) we played in the same room regularly (relational) We also talked about life, troubles, frustrations, relationships, God, and everything else.
Draw pictures with your lids that express feelings, thoughts and emotions if they draw. Text your kids if that is their preferred medium, send them jokes, encouragement, loving thoughts, silly gifs and more. Learn their language. It doesn’t mean you stop talking otherwise and communicating otherwise. It will just make it much more effective.
4. Be Present in ANY Interaction.
If you have listened to the podcast more than once and didn’t see this coming you haven’t been paying attention. Let me spell it out once and then I will move on because I have done entire shows on this.
At some point someone taught you what “Good Listening” looks like, it is taught in Kindergarten through lower elementary.
Your children will NOT meaningfully communicate with you if they have to fight for you undivided attention. Stop the show, set the phone down, put the book away, step away from the computer. Don’t think of the next answer, don’t look around, don’t think about what you just stopped doing. Show your kids that their efforts to communicate with you are more valuable than the trash of life, including work.
Look you may have to ask them to wait 2 minutes but ask like this.
Henley, I need 3 minutes to finish what I am doing because I am in the middle of something, and I want to be totally focused on what you want to share with me. Can it wait for just a moment so I can just be with you on this? (I have said this word for word to my 8-year-old, Henley)
She had no issue waiting 3 minutes right beside me so I could focus on her.
5. Become More Humble
Humility is a poorly understood term that is worthy of far more value than is often placed on it. Men tend not to like it because of this misunderstanding so let’s clear this up a little. Merriam Webster defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance” this use of the word pride is not talking about being proud of who you are or what you can do, it speaks to negative pride as in “pride before the fall” kind of pride.
This can take place in many forms but let me draw a picture to illustrate. You child walks into the living room to talk to you. So you sit down at or lower than their eyeline so they are physically bigger than you in that moment. You say okay and then wait for them to speak and listen intently. No interruptions. You practice good listening skills and validate what they are sharing. Then you ask them if they would like you to reply or if they just needed you to listen and wait for them to set the tone of the interaction.
You may be the parent, but you let them lead their communication with you. That is humility in communication.
Offer to share some experiences that you have had that might be relevant to the situation if they would like you too, then go back to #1 and be transparent. Don’t talk down to them but share the experience with them.
We lowered ourselves from physical dominance, we lowered ourselves from leading the conversation, we lowered ourselves to listening, we lowered ourselves from “knowing everything” to a person with similar experiences and stories that they can connect with. This is humility
I am the first one to say that there are times you have to “Parent” regardless of if they want you too, but there are ways you can do so which keep the lines of communication open and one of them is through humility. Your kids are smarter than you may give them credit for, share your experience that helps them understand the why of whatever the issue is. Make it real and personal for them if you want them to understand it, but you do that relationally with humility and the results will be far more effective.
6. Validate their Feelings and Perspective
I have had a hard time learning this one myself and it is incredibly important. Every person wants to been “SEEN” and have their thoughts and feelings validated. No one needs it more than a child. They don’t have the knowledge or experience yet and so the world is always in flux for them.
Try if you can (this is hard for us adults) to imagine that you had never had any of the experiences that you have had and have not been taught anything much. The world and everything in it becomes far more frightening and disturbing.
Now there is a generational issue here that we have to address, this was not as prevalent a practice when I was a child. While my parents certainly did some of this, there were also a lot of time of “faith” in what they said. Kids were just expected to believe what they were told and when we said something was uncomfortable or scary, sometimes we just heard, “you’re fine” and II have to really work not to do this.
The problem comes because we see the world from our current perspective, experience and knowledge. We can’t always process the world from their perspective. The truth is the world is NOT the same as it was when I was a kid. I am not a fan of what people call “helicopter” parenting, but I had a lot more freedoms at 10 then my daughter does. The fact is there may be the same amount of monsters in the world, there may be more. However there are less people willing to get involved and interfere if it is not their kid. Committees are not as safe as they used to be.
Bullies don’t stop at the school door, but chase you through all of your private spaces through social media and technology. Filth, lies, corrosive and perverse ideologies are being pushed upon children of all ages like never before.
You kids of questions, fears, concerns, stress and worries that you never delt with at their age and they shouldn’t have too. Their very childhood is being destroyed by perverse adults. As a father you need to listen, validate and then comfort, counsel and guide through these issues.
7. Prioritize Listening – Not Responding
Communication experts tell us that the majority of people only hear fractions of conversations because they are contemplating their responses based on the first few words they heard.
We have already talked about good listening skills and being present in the conversation. SLOW DOWN and listen, really listen or your kids will stop communicating with you
8. Choose to be LESS Reactive.
A lot of people react way to fast to anything. Knee jerk reactions dominate people’s lives and often are the source of many of our problems.
Breaking NEWS!! - NO ONE wants a harsh reaction and God forbid it comes with a bad temper.
Your kids will not communicate the most important things if you react in an emotionally reactive way. One of men’s best traits is our natural lean towards Stoicism, specifically not being dominated by our emotions. Now every father knows that no one can illicit an emotional response faster than your children. They know exactly how to hit the right combo for zero to WTF in the blink of an eye.
I want you to consider a radical implementation of logic and reason. Set a rule that if your kids comes to you with something that will likely incur a negative reaction or discipline; that you will wait a certain time period before reacting and certainly before sentencing.
This will take some tweaks but try something like this: Issue/Confession, Grace period before response 30 mins to an hour, Conversation including that there will be repercussions (not yet named or decided), Possible additional grace period before sentencing tomorrow, Calm perspective for sentencing
Now that will work better with older kids and more extreme issues. For younger kids having a predetermined discipline system seems to be more functional. (For goodness sake, it needs to be not fun, tines outs may explain half the issues we have these days. I am a fan of 5 point burpees)
Older or younger, not having a emotional reaction but a structured discipline system will decrease the likelihood of the hiding important issues.
What do you think? What did I miss?