Here we are in month #6 of the Covid-19 pandemic, with every aspect of our lives, including, perhaps most importantly, our children’s education, being affected on a daily basis.
It’s August. We should be buying back-to-school clothes and supplies, planning carpools and after school activities, and preparing our kids for the new school year. Instead, most parents are in limbo, uncertain of how they will balance their own full time jobs, their children’s remote learning, and their family’s physical and mental wellness. Parents are unsure of when school will start, where school will be, and what their child’s learning will look like. It is a stressful time!
One suggestion I am offering to parents seems to go against our parenting instinct to put our children above all else. But I think parents need to put themselves first. If you are not strong and healthy, you cannot ensure your child’s mental health and happiness. If you are too stressed to listen, the tension in your home will rise. If you are finding little pleasure in your life, your child will feel the same negative thoughts. So like when you fly and are told to put on your mask first, I encourage you to put your needs first, and then you will have the strength to be the parent you want to be. (Obviously, your child’s physical safety takes precedence!)
Once you have taken some steps to strengthen yourself, we now need to turn to the way we communicate with our kids. It’s difficult to always listen the right way, talk the right way, and to understand each other. Our kids have a lot to say, and a limited number of people to say it to. We’re it! And it can be emotionally exhausting. As someone who talks and listens for a living, even I get tired of talking and listening sometimes. But we need to do both if we want to build and maintain close relationships with our kids.
Here are 3 tips to help improve communication between you and your child. (And they will work with your partner too!)
**Number one: listen to understand, not to respond.**
While our child is talking, we’re often planning our response instead of truly listening. It’s hard to respond correctly if we don’t understand our kid’s viewpoint and feelings. So listen carefully even if you disagree, and process what you are hearing. Then you will be able to respond to what you really heard, and not just say what you want to say.
**Number 2: respond with empathy.**
When your child says “I hate school”, acknowledge that school IS really challenging right now. When they say “I have no friends”, say that it must be hard to feel that way. Once our kids feel heard and understood, once they believe that we understand and accept their feelings and thoughts, then they will then be able to listen to us.
**Number 3: Talk less and listen more.**
You have two ears and one mouth; that’s so you can listen more than you talk. Let your child talk without interrupting, and then respond with just a few words. Say “thanks for sharing that.” Or say “that’s interesting. I’m glad you told me.” Then stop talking so they will talk more. We don’t learn anything while talking; we only learn while listening. So use your ears more than your mouth, and you’ll be surprised at the improvement in your conversations.
These are tough times, and might get tougher before it gets any easier. There is conflict in (almost) every home, and much of the stress comes from bad communication. But following these 3 tips can help, and I encourage you to try. And I bet your kids will start to communicate in these healthier ways too.