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Are You Listening?

It is often said, and for many good reasons, that effective communication is the backbone of strong families. But what is effective communication? How do you know if communication with your kids is on the right track?

Children need to be heard - not necessarily agreed with nor indulged - but heard. So, when parents make an obvious priority of focusing on their child (eye contact) and hearing what is said, and what is meant, children are more likely to develop expectations of being heard. Children who expect to be heard are likely to develop ways of expressing themselves that are less manipulative. These same kids are likely to become effective listeners as well, which is good for mom and dad. Are you listening?

Communicating is something we each develop with style. A style of our own to be sure, but one that is inevitably influenced by the people with whom we most interact. Sometimes, this “modeling” is conscious and many times, not so much. Parents often express surprise, happily or not, at how similar they sound to their own parents when dealing with their children. Similarly, the habits developed in response to parents often become prominent in the ways we interact with partners/spouses later in life. Some of what is emulated by children will be words, but much of what kids pick up is a parent’s posture, attitude and many non-verbal characteristics. Manage your non-verbal cues for the betterment of their learning. Are you listening?

Effective family communication has two parallel purposes:
(a) successful engagement in the topic of the moment and
(b) furthering the development of positive communication habits for the future.

Are you listening?

Say what needs to be said succinctly with a consciousness about your child’s particular sensitivities. Be aware of the non-verbal cues that will comprise the majority of the message you send. Crafting what you say and how you say it will determine the precedents set between you and your children. “Ready - aim - fire” is always better than “ready - fire - aim.”

If the meaning of a child’s statements is unclear, ask. Assumptions are never a good idea, if only because assumptions reduce the exchange. Usually, assumptions shame and misdirect the communication. That I think I know what you’re going to say doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let you say it. Repetition often indicates the experience of “message not heard”. Are you listening? Knowing what will likely come out of your mouth doesn’t equal knowing what’s in your heart. For children, and often for parents, finding the right words for expressing emotions can be difficult, especially when frightened or overwhelmed. Listen with patience and inquire only for the purpose of understanding, never argument or dismissal. Are you listening?

This article is brought you by the Alliance for Healthy Communities. Its goal is to improve, enhance, and strengthen connections between youth and their communities in West St. Louis County. Follow them on Facebook for more tips on keeping your child safe and healthy.