In our past in-depth blog entry, we discussed the importance of your involvement in your child’s education. It goes without saying that a large portion of this involvement is communication with your children. You can be involved in their lives by engaging in conversation with them that yields genuine fruit about their experiences and wellbeing.
And of course, it’s important to remember that communication is and will always be a two-way street.
What is effective communication with your child?
Good communication with your child is fundamentally tied to understanding their experiences and respecting what they’re going through. They need to feel aware that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say.
In his 2003 book, Staying Connected To Your Teenager: How To Keep Them Talking To You And How To Hear What They’re Really Saying, parenting expert Michael Riera, Ph.D., says:
“The advantages of writing notes to your teenagers are twofold. One, writing notes involves you more in your teenager’s life. You are actively making observations and taking time to communicate them in a way that your teenager can take in. You are doing something concrete to strengthen your connection with your teenager. Two, you are respecting your teenager’s world. You know he is self-conscious and defensive, so you write a note because it slips by the self-consciousness and defensiveness. You also give him the best opportunity to take in fully what you have written – he reads it in privacy somewhere, in his room or car. And best of all, it’s something that he can keep and refer to in the future, perhaps even when he is down on himself or his relationship with you. “
You should also accommodate the developmental stages that your children are going through. For example, once again in the critical adolescent stage, teenage behavior can become erratic and negative. Parents need to position themselves as a “safe space,” a trusted partner who is willing to listen without judgement, rather than a parent known for lashing out in anger or lecturing immediately.
Techniques for effective communication
One of the best ways to foster effective communication is to express interest in your child’s experiences, but not in a cookie-cutter way that seems disingenuous. “How was your day?” is one of the least interesting ways to get started, whether you’re a child or adult, after all!
Asking the right questions
A great way to start is to ask meaningful questions that allow you to engage with them, at the end of every day. Here are a few good ones to try!
- What made you laugh today?
We’ve previously discussed how positive emotions are an important part of all children’s development, and engaging with your child on the basis of positivity is a great way to encourage this.
- What made you sad today?
Children go through the entire spectrum of emotions every day, and sometimes it can be difficult for them to process, especially when they’re too young to truly understand cause and effect. By discussing their sadness as well as their happiness, you’ll be able to get an idea of what pains them in school, and how you can work together to fix things.
- Who did you play with today?
Play is such an important part of child development that United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had to go right and say it, back in 1989. Play builds character and relationships. By looking out for who your child is playing with, you can get an idea of the relationships they’re forming. This works for teenagers as well, though the term to use is “hang out.”
- What are you most proud of today?
A child’s feeling of accomplishment, no matter how small or big their achievement is, must be cultivated. Discuss what made your child proud and praise them for it or show interest in how they achieved it themselves.
- What’s the most interesting thing you learned today?
Your child will be constantly learning things in school that may fill them with wonder and joy. Discuss these with them and show the same wonder; few things can inspire the desire to keep learning than a parent showing interest as well.
- What can be better tomorrow?
After-school conversations with parents often take a natural course of being problem-focused. Children like to talk about all their challenges during the day. While parents are being receptive, it is important to respond to children in a solution-focused way. Asking them questions such as, ‘What can you do to improve the situation?’ ‘How can I help you?’ helps children develop a positive growth mind-set.
Working with your child in their own development
Your child isn’t just an isolated recipient of your will. You must work with them and engage them if they’re to take ownership of their personal development.
For example, whenever you scold them, they must become aware of what they’ve done right or wrong. You need to explain to them why you’re reprimanding them and engage them how they can make amends or adjust their behavior. But this works both ways. You must also listen genuinely to your child if they have a reason for what they did. Don’t just go ahead and punish them – hear them out first and acknowledge their feelings. This will encourage them to keep approaching and communicating with you, if they’re aware that you do listen to them, not just blindly get angry.
This two-sided engagement is essential to developing your child’s communication skills. It gives them agency and promotes the notion that their thoughts, feelings, and ideas have value.
Use positive rather than negative statements
Don’t say “don’t.” Constantly telling a child what you don’t want them to do doesn’t really reinforce the behavior that you do what them to do. Talk to them as you would an older person – rather than telling them not to do something, ask them to do something specific. For example:
Rather than “Don’t stay up late,” say “Please go to bed at 8:00PM.”
Rather than “Don’t go roughhousing with your sister,” say “Please play gentler games, for example…(share an example)”
Make yourself a safe space for sharing
Many parents tell their children, “You can tell me anything,” but proceed to get very mad and enact punishment whenever they tell the truth. This eventually leads to resentment and fear rather than respect. While you must never become neglectful whenever you see perceived bad behavior in your child, you should also strike a balance that allows them to tell you about something they’ve done – with assistance and support coming first, and any judgement coming second.
Working with the school
One thing that every parent should be doing is working with the school to ensure that they’re aware of how their child is doing. This can mean anything from attending parent-teacher conferences, to scheduling one-on-one sessions with faculty and counselors. Consistency between home and school is key to creating a healthy environment for a child.
Some helpful advice from our Counselor Neha Qazi
It’s especially helpful if the school hosts events that can promote this understanding and communication. Our Head of Primary School Mr Emmanuel Gauthier explains that ‘Keeping lines of communication open with parents is vitally important for schools; establishing effective lines of communication even more so. At SISD we embrace a personalised and targeted approach within our community. This involves but is not limited to weekly newsletters, our parent portal, formal and informal meetings. Transparency is something we champion at our school. One of the unique and effective strategies for achieving this is through our monthly pastoral coffee mornings where parents are provided with the opportunity to collaborate with the pastoral care team and visiting specialists in an open and reflective environment.’
SISD organises three parent-teacher conferences every year, during which the sentiments and concerns of students are discussed among the parent body and the faculty. We pride ourselves on having conferences with students, not without them, and the inclusion of the student body in these conferences allows us to learn how to communicate with each other, alongside each other.
This is a great time to learn exactly the kind of experiences that your child is having on-campus. This is especially useful for boarding students.
We also have monthly pastoral care events during which we bring specialists to talk about issues and concerns that parents have raised, and so that parents may learn more and provide feedback about how we support young people.
In addition, counselors and the pastoral care team are always available during these events to discuss and exchange, or even schedule private appointments for other concerns.
All of this is carefully carried out as part of a dialogue that takes place among parents, teachers and students. We have a parent forum committee, as well as class parents, who facilitate this dialogue.
The International Baccalaureate as a communications advocate
The International Baccalaureate is the foundation not just of our curriculum, but in the values that we wish to instill in our children.
One of the most important components of the IB Learner Profile is that of the communicator. It’s not just the parents’ job to be effective at communication, of course; through the teachings of the IB, every student becomes a better communicator, allowing them to more meaningfully express themselves.
Through the IB, we teach our students to communicate more fluently, and help develop their relationships with other people, including their parents. This is reflected not only in classroom teachings but in every interaction, we have with our children.
Some advice to offer to help foster communication with your children:
A commitment to developing skills can support communication between adults and communication with children. Here are a few strategies that work:
- Demonstrate being present in the conversation by placing mobile devices off and outside of visible and physical reach.
- Appropriate body language is a key indicator of active listening skills. For example, sitting at your child’s level while making eye contact helps connect instantly with your child.
- Clarify understanding by paraphrasing to the speaker, showing that you understand what has been said
- Using I statements, for example, ‘I think…’ or ‘I feel’ statements is good practice for effective conversations with your child.
- Draw out another’s thinking by asking ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions, instead of ‘why’ questions e.g. What made you do that? versus Why did you do that?
- Offer and support alternative ways to express themselves so they have time to process and organize their thoughts. For example, writing in a diary or a journal as a daily exercise can prepare your child to be a confident communicator.
- Children don’t always want their parents to problem-solve for them. They want to be listened to and feel that their opinion matters to someone.
Modeling the behavior we want to see in others, whether children or adults, has longer lasting benefits.