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Family Matters: Family Communication

Family Communication

You cannot not communicate! People are constantly speaking with their mouths (verbal communication) and are communicating nonverbally with their faces and bodies. In a family, it is important to think about how family members communicate with each other. It’s not just what you say to your kids that is important—It’s what you say and how you say it. As Dr. Phil Quinn says in his book, “The Well-Adjusted Child”, “effective communication is an essential part of any healthy relationship.”

It’s a given that parents love their children. Effective parents know that kids need to hear “I love you’s” in many different ways—with a hug, with words, taking care of them when they are sick, providing food, shelter and clothing. Kids know they are loved when they hear a parent say it, but also when they feel loved as well.

Sometimes parents may send mixed messages to children. Saying “I love you and am doing this for your own good” accompanied by harsh discipline can create confusion and fear in a child. Kids also may become confused and anxious by a parent’s sarcasm or insensitive “joking”.

A parent’s communication may be too vague for the child’s developmental age. Just saying “Behave!” is not as helpful as laying out specific expectations for behavior in different settings. How kids act at grandma’s is different from how they should behave in school, or at the playground, or with their siblings. Just spelling it out directly and clearly for kids can mean the difference between angry parents, crying kids, and a ruined outing, or an enjoyable family time for all.

Guidelines for Effective Communication by Phil Quinn:

It is very important that parents communicate clearly and effectively with children, particularly in those areas where certain responses are expected. A child cannot live up to adult expectations unless he knows beforehand exactly what those expectations are.

  1. Always use language a child can understand. Don’t try to improve language and vocabulary skills while giving an order. Keep language simple and direct.

  2. If possible, get at or below eye level with the child and look her in the eye while you speak. Children live in a world bombarded constantly with words, many of which they must tune out because they don’t understand them. By speaking directly to the child, you not only get and hold her attention, but your behavior tells her that what you have to say is important. (Recent research showed that parents who are distracted by cell phones or TV were more likely to have distracted kids--kids with short attention spans!)

  3. Always talk slowly, softly and clearly. Channel Mr. Rogers! He had it perfectly right. Children’s brains can’t process high speed language. Have you noticed that an upset child will calm down if you whisper? He has to calm down if he wants to hear what is being said.

  4. Explain to the child what is occurring and exactly what you expect from her. Spell it out! Directions for grocery shopping could be: “It’s okay to talk, but not to shout. It’s okay to look, but not to touch. It’s okay to walk, but not to run away from mommy or daddy, ever!

  5. Make sure your expectations are reasonable and appropriate for the child’s age. Don’t expect your child never to make a mistake or always to behave exactly as you want him to! Children are human beings, not robots we can program.

  6. Ask the child if she understands what you expect and if she can repeat back what you said.

  7. Be consistent in the words you use and the behavior that accompanies them. Be sure your words, facial expressions and body language match. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Avoid sending mixed messages to kids. “No, I’m not mad,” said mommy with a scowl on her face!

  8. Reward your children’s efforts at listening and their attempts to do what you have asked them to do. Children desperately need parental acceptance and approval. They will do practically anything to get it. Even behave!

Source: “The Well-Adjusted Child” by Dr. Phil Quinn

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