With kids glued to the laptop or busy studying or doing homework, while mom and dad are worn out and tired from working long hours and commuting, communication between family members is becoming a dying art. Yet HEALTH learns that the very crux of a healthy family is communication and the family that talks with one another, stays together…
Mom is tired, dad is tired, kids are busy….no one is talking. Instead we send messages via Twitter, email, and text messaging; whatever happened to the art of good old fashioned communication? According to Dr. Valeria Risoli, Clinical Psychologist at Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Clinic, communication is the essential ingredient for the healthy and positive functioning of any group of people. She explains, “In a family, communication is absolutely important for the relationship within the couple, between parents and children and among siblings.” And communication is much more than talking, but rather, paramount for sharing ideas, showing affection and respect to each other. “Communication is not only an expression of words or gestures, but is listening and paying attention to each other in an active and positive way,” she says and communication encompasses many aspects; from sharing meals together at the table as a family, sitting together and chatting as well as playful interaction are all effective ways to enhance communication.
Communicating to Children
Communication within a family should always be clear, direct, positive and assertive, stresses Risoli and the way parents communicate with their kids’ changes upon the age of their children. “The tone and the visual expression used when communicating to a baby and toddler are obviously different from the tone used when talking to a teenager,” she says. “At different ages, your son or daughter’s needs are different; for example, a baby and a toddler need to be reassured and cuddled, at ages four and five, he/she needs to be listened and answered to hundreds of seemingly endless ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ while at ages 9 and 10, he/ she needs to be asked clear questions about his/her day and praised for his/ her successes.” Teenagers on the other hand, need to feel comfortable and understood so they can trust and open up to their parents.
A baby, says Risoli, is more sensitive to the tone and volume of mom’s voice; he may cry if his mom says ‘stop’ or ‘no’ loudly because of her tone more than from the meaning of the word. “For this reason, parents should be careful with their tone and volume when talking,” she states, and remember that parents also communicate through their body posture and gestures. Babies and toddlers want to stay close to mom and dad as these are ways that he/she feels loved and safe. “Hugging, holding and cuddling is a communicative way to reassure your child and tell him that you love him,” she says. And essentially, parents adapt to their children’s ages accordingly and learn to talk like they do, using songs and chanting rhymes to communicate and give instruction. “An example is asking a toddler to pick up toys by singing a ‘clean up song’ and in fact, most of moms sing and use a playful tone to communicate with their children,” points out Risoli, and in fact, this is actually very positive and functional because it helps children better memorize instructions and rules in a playful way and become more cooperative. To further enrich your toddler’s language and vocabulary, she advises to not stop talking, even if you are not sure if your child understands what you are saying; do not stop talking to him or her.
Five Years Old to Pre-teen
School age kids spend more time at school than at home so if you want to communicate with them, Risoli says that you will have to find time for them and you have to make an effort to spend quality time together. She explains, “Your school age children do not like to be threatened like babies so you have to change your tone when speaking to them. An effective key to communicate with them is to be clear and direct, avoiding open questions or comments, but focusing on details of their life at school and home.” This stage of children is not as sensitive to your tone or volume of voice as before but they pay attention to the content of what you are saying, so try always to be assertive, firm and emotionally controlled when you are unhappy. And when you are proud of him or her, be positive and convincing.
Teenage years are a moment of transition when your kids are becoming more mature and are looking for independence. “They often become more introverted and private and have difficulty opening up to their parents,” she notes therefore mom and dad should make an extra effort to praise them and make them feel comfortable with themselves. Risoli adds that if your son/daughter does not feel like talking, you cannot force the teenager but instead remind him/her that you are interested in how he/she feels. Show interest and give them time, do not press or control. “Gaining their trust is a long and complex process that starts from childhood,” she says and healthy and positive families are those in which respect and free exchange or feelings and ideas are promoted from the beginning. She advises to aim to understand their feelings before judging them and involve them and talk to them, instead of waiting for them to come to you. “Also ask questions and pay attention to their words and silence, and choose the right time to talk to them,” she says, if however the teen is upset, let him or her calm down and do not attack with a barrage of questions… they will not answer, they will just get more and more upset and close up.
Why It Matters
Communication, emphasizes Risoli, is not only an exchange of words, but also understanding each other’s feelings even without words. And this cannot happen when we are chatting on the computer or text messaging. “Family relationships help children learn how to communicate verbally and non-verbally,” she explains and non-verbal communication is a fundamental aspect of human and animal communication. Further adding, “While on Facebook you can click on ‘I like’, however in real life you can look at your child and with a smile you can say many more things that a click of your mouse cannot communicate…” The bottom line, stresses Risoli, is that if we do not promote real communication amongst people, within families and social groups, the future generations’ society will be made up of people unable to talk to each other, a society of individuals unaware of the existence of other people around, and ultimately a society burdened with loneliness.
Tips to enhance communication within the family:
Listen: Communication is based on saying and listening to each other’s words and reading each other’s face and body language. If you want to talk to your child, you have to start listening to what she/he wants to say to you. When they are talking to you, stop doing what you are doing, look at them and listen.
When you are upset : wait until you calm down. Always talk in a calm but firm way if necessary. Firm and positive communication is more effective than negative and aggressive words.
Do not compare your child’s qualities with anyone else, not even his siblings. Children need to understand that they are unique with their strengths and limits. You can express your disappointment in a positive and firm way without comparing or humiliating.
Do not assume. Wait for your kids to finish their say before jumping to conclusion and evaluation.
Use a positive way of talking even when you are unhappy with your child’s behaviour. Instead of “don’t do that” or “this is very bad”, say “I’d like you to do this” or “you can do better”.
If your child is not very talkative, accept this without criticizing but reinforce his/her efforts to communicate when he share something.
Things we should NOT be communicating with our kids:
Kids do not need to be informed about adults’ issues; these include arguments between parents, financial difficulties, and family issues. Respect the age of your children and do not load them with worries and situations that they are not emotionally ready to deal with.
Your children do not need to know how good other children are. They need to be praised and appreciated for what they are and have, without being compared to anyone else.
Your children do not need to be informed about disturbing and traumatic events of life: let them enjoy their age without spoiling their serene development with details that they are not ready to face.
If you do not know how to talk to your children about topics that may be difficult and uncomfortable to explain, wait for them to ask. Let them know that you are there any time they have a doubt or curiosity about anything, let them feel open and comfortable with you and wait for them to ask.
If you are facing difficulties within your marital relationship, your children do not need to be informed about details and should not hear negative comments about their mom or dad.
Parents should not keep secrets about important events of the family’s life–divorce or parents, illness of a family member as children can understand and sense if something is happening. Parents should communicate to their kids what is going on, always adopting a simple and clear way of talking, appropriate for their age.
(Credit: Valeria Risoli)