Am I the only one who asks my child, "What happened at school today?" only to get a disinterested "Nothing" in response? Or have a spouse who responds to "How was your day?" with "Fine," or "It was OK"?
Doesn't it seem like everyone around us is always rushing off to their myriad of electronic devices: TVs, Play Stations, and smartphones?
We all lead busy lives, and the snippets of conversation we do manage to have - before and after school, or wedged in between activities and homework, or during mealtimes - can suffer from the halfhearted participation and inattentiveness of all parties. What can we do to rebuild our broken communication systems? How can we make good old-fashioned conversation more appealing than the constant distractions that surround us?
I've asked a few friends and colleagues. They admit that they are facing the same communication hurdles in their own families. Who can we turn to when we can't find the answers we need?
When all else fails: Google it.
If the volume of expert advice out there is any indication, my family must not be the only one struggling with a communication problem! I found some great suggestions, and here is what our family has implemented:
- To start, we tune out. We've gotten back to the "good old days" of the 1950s by turning off the TV, putting our phones and tablets away, and really pausing to eat dinners around a real table as a real family. Here is a great article on how to make mealtimes an essential part of your family's life.
- But what do you say once you're gathered around the dinner table? Aha! Parenting suggests asking nonjudgmental questions that require real answers. Questions such as “What was the best thing about school today?,” “Do the kids at school ever talk about boyfriends and girlfriends?,” “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” or “How did the soccer game go at recess?” will get you a lot further than “What happened at school today?”
- Parents Magazine suggests some other conversation starters, as well as helpful do's and don'ts, such as: "Do allow your child to say he just doesn't feel like talking, but don't let him get away with ignoring you...Don't barrage your child with questions if you notice she's getting anxious or seems distressed." Following these tips will help prevent communication shut-downs.
- Who doesn't love a compliment? Feeling trusted and appreciated helps everyone feel more open to talk. Every night, our family plays a little game we made up called "What We Love About Each Other." Each family member takes a turn complimenting another. While these comments are admittedly superficial at times, there are also heartfelt thanks peppered throughout. Sometimes it will be simple - "I love your shirt!" - and other times it will be deeply emotional, like when someone recognizes a sweet gesture or little act of service that happened to them that day. This little activity makes us want to do more nice things for one another!
- Our son is just 5 years old, and I live in terror of the day I wake up to a teenager. I can only imagine the struggle conversation becomes with teenagers. Yet, talking is never more necessary and the topics never more urgent than during the teen years: friends and peer pressure, driving and responsibility, dating and boundaries, college and independence, drugs and drinking. As a parent, you never want to see your kids in trouble or suffering - but one or the other (and sometimes both!) will happen to our teens. The best way to prevent or minimize this pain - for both you and your teen - is simply by engaging in open and honest communication with them. Check out this list of 10 Ways to Keep Your Kids From Doing Dumb Things, and offer your teen the support he or she needs to make good decisions.
I hope that our family is setting a good foundation for open, healthy conversations - and I hope that perhaps a few of these tips will start similar conversations in your house, too.
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