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Spending time with your children provides you with ample opportunities to communicate constantly and creatively with them. Contrary to public opinion, surveys of teens indicate that they do want to talk to their parents. Unfortunately, fathers ranked 48th among people teens turn to when they face crisis in their lives.
According to Robert Hamrin's Great Dads: Building Loving, Lasting Relationships With Your Kids, if you spend time with your children when they are young, they will seek you out for counsel and fellowship when they are adults. Similarly, if you listen to your children when they are little, they'll still be talking to you when they are teenagers and the subjects are vitally important. However, if you don't listen to your children at a young age, you may never know when the really important issues aren't being shared with you.
The ABCs of Good Communication
Good communication promotes healthy self esteem and good character. What follows are some basic tenets of communicating effectively with your children.
Look into their eyes when you converse with them
Let them speak their peace and share all of their thoughts before you give them counsel with options. This is vital, because when you don't listen attentively to a child's feelings, ideas, and experiences, you are saying in essence, "I don't value you very highly."
Remember that as the parent, you have all of the power in the exchange, so you lose nothing by letting your child talk before you enforce any rules or regulations. In fact, by allowing them to voice their concerns, you imply that you are not just imposing a list of rules, but that you care about their long term growth and stability.
Why Communication is So Important
According to Josh McDowell, "The weight of positive influence that we assert on our sons and daughters will be exactly proportional to the kind of communication pattern we use." Don't be passive when it comes to communicating with your children. They may have refused your efforts to talk with them in the past, but be persistent. Don't take no for an answer, but seek out "teachable moments" to communicate with t hem. Teenagers want and need our leadership and guidance.
General Principles of Good Communication
If your current pattern of communicating isn't working, change it. You must be committed to communicating successfully. It will require time, energy, and patience. So you must be committed to making it work up front.
Care First, Advise Second
When I taught High School I had an opportunity to conduct peer-training workshops. Since the principal usually transferred the "tough kids" into my classes, my colleagues often asked me how I got through to them. My mantra was "If they know you care about them, they will care about what you have to teach them." Similarly, children are keenly aware when a parent doesn't really care about listening to them. If kids feel that you don't care about their concerns, they will eventually tune you out. Two methods of demonstrating that you care is to never scream at them and to reduce the number of "lectures."
See Life Through Their Eyes
Try to enter their world. Put yourself in their shoes. As you empathize with your children, they will begin to share with a father who's really trying to understand them.
Good Communication Takes Time
Commit to hours of time rather than minutes of time. Again, quality time only comes from a quantity of time. When your teenage son or preteen daughter needs an ear it may require an hour or so to really connect with them. Listen first, probe further with more questions and more listening, and then make suggestions. However, short amounts of time can also work wonders when the child initiates the conversation.
Look for Good Times to Communicate
When you listen is as important as how you listen. Never attempt to communicate when either you or your child is tired or angry. Rather, make time to dialogue when they want to talk. You can engage in great conversations during mealtimes and before bedtime. Finally, make a habit of talking to your children prior to sending them off to school and again when they first come home from school.
Modes of Communication
The manner in which we communicate with our children is equally, if not more important than what we say to them. Remember, what we say equates to 7% of what we communicate, our tone of voice accounts for 38% of what we communicate, and our gestures convey 55% of what we communicate.
The average parent communicating with a child uses 90% of the time, while the child's input is roughly 10%. Since as parents we ultimately have all of the power in these exchanges, we can afford to give a much larger portion of the conversation to the child. In addition, as fathers, we need to check our natural tendency to jump in and "fix the problem" before we have listened attentively to the situation. Finally, listen for their feelings, not just their words.
Input the questions of your choice from page 173 of Great Dads: Building Loving, Lasting Relationships With Your Kids.
As fathers, we should try to be a little more transparent with our children. You must be sensitive in this regard, but here are a few practical ways that you can open up to your children.
Explain your stance on Health Care, AIDS, abortion, equal rights, homosexuality, foreign aid, school budget cuts, proposed tax increases, political candidates, and so on. Having these discussions during mealtime or as you take walks together will enable you to discuss these topics proactively without the appearance of giving a lecture.
Have Some Fun
Equally important is your kids need to view you as a source of happiness in their lives. Think of creative ways to convey that above all else you love them and enjoy your time with them. Here are a few suggestions.
Send your kids notes in the mail to tell them how proud you are of them and let them know how blessed you feel to be their father.
When on business travel, call home just to talk to the kids. Tell them something that happened that day that made you think of them in particular.
Make time for discussions on your way to or from an outing of their choosing. Discuss what they like most about the event.
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