So many parents feel trapped in negative patterns of relating to their kids. They cycle through the same arguments week after week, leaving everyone feeling exhausted and battle-weary.
When faced with challenging or problematic behaviors in children, all parents are bound to make mistakes. The five most common are:
- Blaming each other for their children’s behavior.
- Shaming, criticizing, and lecturing their children.
- Relying too heavily on punishments.
- Dictating rules without discussion.
- Modeling impulsive or disrespectful behaviors.
Such choices escalate conflicts and leave families battered and disheartened. Even worse, as long as parents continue to make these five mistakes, their relationship with their kid will steadily deteriorate.
Rebooting Your Family Communication Style
The single most powerful skill for strengthening and improving family relationships is healthy communication. The quality of parents’ communication ultimately determines the success of their parenting and the happiness of their children. The three essentials for healthy family communication:
Behavior. Modeling positive behavior is a vital part of successful parenting. For example, when parents disrespect one another or their children, they're training their children to disrespect them, their siblings, their peers, or teachers. Parents must model the positive behaviors that they want to see in their kids.
Language. Parents’ choice of language has a powerful effect on children. It is never permissible for family members to abuse each other verbally. Avoid language that is degrading or demoralizing. Crude or hurtful language damages children's fragile egos and undermines their self-esteem.
Listening. Parents who are poor listeners are more likely to have defiant, depressed, or anxious children. Listening is curative; it is the basis for nearly all talk therapies. Children who feel their parents are engaged listeners develop a positive sense of self and trust their parents more.
Launching a New Culture of Communication
Setting out to change your family’s culture of communication takes time and isn’t easy but will bring you sustainable results. Here are four areas to focus on:
1. Parental Unity. Improving communication between you and your partner is crucial. Discuss parenting decisions before including your kids. Work out your conflicts in private. Put your ego aside. Avoid making executive decisions, work as a team.
2. Family Meetings. Too often, families discuss behaviors under stressful conditions. Hold family meetings at a time when everyone is well-rested and relaxed. Use such meetings to establish family rules and routines. Let everyone get an equal share of the talking time. Be sure to process conflicts, acknowledge progress, and set shared goals. Always start each meeting with a round of gratitude before you delved into more thorny situations.
3. Positive Reinforcement. Parents tend to be too critical and ignore improvements in behavior. Praise your kids’ positive choices. Pay particular attention to improvements in your communication style. Simple acknowledgments such as, “I like the way you said that” or “I appreciate that you told me that” reinforce gains.
4. Healthy Family Activities
Put down your cell phone, unplug from technology (See Best Family Tech Contract), step away from academic concerns or housework. Every family needs healthy activities that they enjoy together. Consider the following five kinds of healthy family activities:
- Physical activities, such as bike riding or going to the gym.
- Creative activities, such as making art or going to a gallery or concert.
- Intellectual activities, such as attending a lecture, play, or reading a novel together.
- Spiritual activities, such as attending religious gatherings or practicing meditation.
- Altruistic activities, such as volunteering with neighborhood organizations or participating in donation drives.
To break free of negative communication patterns, you'll have to confront your own emotional immaturities. You'll need to be more patient, mindful and thoughtful. This will be challenging, but when you rise to the challenge your children will follow.
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