How to begin a lifestyle of talking with your children that changes relationships and lives for the better!
I was about 15 years old when my last of three older brothers and stepbrothers left home.
So, my primary residence for the first time in my life was made up of me, my mom, and my stepdad. It was an adjustment for everyone.
After so many years of my brothers each playing little league then middle school then high school sports and it taking up so much time and attention, there we were, just the three of us eating dinner at the table one night. There were no sports games looming, no big events on the calendar, and we were all just looking at our plates and eating our food.
Somehow the topic of communication arose.
My stepdad said something like, “Huh?”
My slightly smart alec self replied with “You know, communication. I talk, you listen. You talk, I listen. Got it?”
I hadn’t seen or heard my mom or stepdad laugh that hard in years. I mean they were shaking laughing. My stepdad especially. He finally composed himself enough to turn to my mom and ask, “Where did she come from and when did she get so funny?”
To which I responded, “I’ve been right here for 15 years and you’re just now noticing me.”
The three of us have laughed and referred to that story several times over the years. It was a little lesson in communication from a kid who couldn’t even drive.
The funniest part about it is that it actually was helpful and true, really.
The necessary components of communication between adults and even older adolescents is really time, listening, and talking.
Even my comment about noticing me. I was joking to an extent at the time, but really? That’s the other huge component of communicating well. We have to be aware of, present with, and noticing of the other person with which we are wanting to communicate if we want to better our relationships.
We’re going on two decades since that conversation, and if each of us are honest, we are all three still working on and sometimes struggling with my high school age advice.
Now, that I have a young child of my own and have worked numerous counseling sessions with children of all ages, I know that communication with children sometimes needs a little boost and some bumper lanes and guidelines along the way.
The basic building blocks? Still loads of time and listening, some talking, and extra heaping scoops of presence.
What about with younger children?
What about communication between the whole family?
What about if you’ve been stuck in a rut or gone through a hard time or just feel like your communication relationship with your kids needs some WD40?
That’s what this particular feature is for.
Recently, at What About Me, we featured an article about the way we talk to our children and the inner voice that is being created as we communicate with them. We talked about gifts we can give them like respect, attention, boundaries, and love.
For today though, we’re going to break it down a little more into smaller pieces and ideas you can literally pick up and try out tonight.
We hope the following list can be like a resource bank for you to fall back on when you’re feeling stuck or need those bumper lanes in place. (There’s no shame in that! We all need bumper lanes with our kids at times.)
So, here we go!
25 Quick Start Ways to Improve Communication with your Kids today:
1. Turn off your phone. In fact, turn off all the electronic things – tablets, tvs, game consoles, and your kids’ phone.
2. Give your child undivided attention. As a mom, I’ll be the first to admit the difficulty level on this. You want to be cooking and talking, cleaning and talking, texting and talking, all the things and talking! Try undivided attention for a few minutes a day.
3. Practice being with only. By that I mean: notice them, observe them, see what’s bringing them joy or makes them proud. See your child through eyes you usually don’t have time for.
4. Take your child on a mommy and me or daddy and me date night. Find someone else to watch your other kids for an hour or two and take them to do something simple – get ice cream or pizza or go watch a game they’ve been wanting to see. Do this with each kid every so often so no one gets lost in the shuffle. (My friend’s family practiced this on half birthdays and it became the sweetest family tradition the kids always remember.)
5. Look at your child while you’re talking to them.
6. If looking at each other while talking is new and intimidating for you and your child, integrate it slowly by doing things side by side (like coloring, puzzles, cooking, etc.) and sneaking glances as they open up.
7. Implement family date nights too. Maybe it’s as simple as an arcade night where you choose to be really present and play with them. Or maybe you go to the mall and ride the carousel and make Build-A-Bears and eat dinner. Or maybe you stay in and have a movie night and discuss your favorite parts over ice cream after. Be creative! Even older kids who act too cool need and will cherish this.
8. Play a game together. Specifically? Therapists love the “Ungame for Families”. It’s a card game that asks questions where you have to think about what you like or hope or dream. You can learn so much about what your children are thinking about with this game. Best of all: there’s no winner, so arguments are limited!
9. Eat dinner together regularly. It doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to cook! Frozen pizza or peanut butter sandwiches are totally acceptable. Just gathering each other together around the table so often creates consistency and a ritual your child needs as they learn to open up.
10. Go for a nightly walk or a hike or toss a ball with your kids that just can’t seem to sit still yet. There’s something magical about the art of moving together, continuing an action that sometimes helps us open up and keep talking. (I practice this one on my husband sometimes when he’s anxious or overwhelmed or has trouble opening up. It’s like he forgets he’s talking about something stressful if he gets lost in throwing a ball or hiking!)
11. Externalize their problems. By that I mean, if your kids are anxious or stressed, talk about it as if the stress or anxiety is a separate thing entirely – like the Worry Monster is attacking – so it doesn’t feel like THEY are the problems.
12. With imaginative kids, make up stories together. Enter into their imagination world and see what it’s like there. If they love playing Barbies or playing house, play with them and let them lead. Ask good questions so they lead you in their art of story-making. You can learn so much about how a child feels in the stories they are crafting.
13. Play together! The primary language of children for many years is simply play. For some kids, this will last into adolescence even, and that is okay. We can communicate well and often with our kids through play, if we’re willing to slow down and enter into their world with them!
14. Laugh together regularly! Create that kind of fun environment. Surprise your children by being willing to act like a kid yourself. Do things that make you feel silly. Maybe it’s a dance party or a karaoke night. Laughing together creates an environment of safety.
15. Be generous with your praise and affirmation. Tell them often and regularly not just that you’re proud of them but why and how.
16. Get on or below your children’s eye level. Sit on the floor, sit on their bed, set them up on the counter or in your lap. This communicates that you’re with them and is super easing to their anxieties.
17. Give your children space but stay near. We don’t want to be hounding and pestering our children all the time. Learn to read their cues well.
18. As writer Shauna Niequist recently penned: “Drop Everything and Snuggle.” Provide lots of kind, non-forceful or intimidating physical touch. Hugs, a hand to hold, a snuggle on the couch. Stop what you’re doing and communicate that you’re near with touch and kindness, words and affection. It makes all the difference.
19. Share stories with them about yourself at their age. At a young age, children love knowing funny things you were interested in or favorite books you read or what you were like. As adolescents, they need these stories to learn from your mistakes and learn that you weren’t perfect either.
20. Ask open-ended questions instead of closed. Closed-ended require simple one word answers. Open questions require more thought!
21. Ask your children what they want or need.
22. Show interest in the things they are interested in. You may not care one bit about Pokemon cards, but if your child does, let them tell you about it and really express your interest too.
23. Listen, really listen, even if you don’t agree. There’s time for teaching and correcting. It doesn’t have to be all the time. Sometimes you can just listen and care!
24. Create talking ritual. You may have one kid that’s chipper in the morning and loves to talk over breakfast. You may have another that only opens up if they’re distracted playing somehow (like tossing a ball). Notice those times and work with what each child needs.
25. Apologize well. Let your children know when you make mistakes and then go the extra mile to make it right. The impact this will have on your child is HUGE.
LAST NOTE: Communicate well with others too. Remember: kids learn most by observation and imitation. So they are learning to communicate from you, whether you’re communicating with them or someone else. They’re always watching, always learning, whether we’d like them to be or not!
Overall, I still think my 15 year old self had some good advice for her parents at dinner. That coupled with these ideas will set your communicating world on the right path.
What you’re doing with each of these activities or stances is creating and building trust with these little people who I know you love so much.
Be consistent and give it time, especially with your older kids.
Your younger children may respond quickly and well with just a few of these interventions and a few days.
However, maybe your teenage son rolls his eyes on family date night and acts like he doesn’t like throwing a ball with you for 15 minutes in the afternoon at first. Then, maybe you take him to get a Sonic milkshake one night and he opens up just a little about what’s really going on with mom or dad or at school. This kind of thing is a huge win!
These things take lots of time, intentionality, and consistency. Don’t give up. You’re doing a great job.
We hope you have communication with your kids that you’ll both cherish forever.
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