Here are eight quick tips on ways to improve communication with your kid. (Hint: Nobody likes lectures, nobody likes to be yelled at, and nobody learns when the communication is antagonistic.)
- Tell the truth.
- Keep complaints specific.
- Be careful with criticism.
- Stop yelling!
- Nix the nagging, lose the lectures, avoid the advice.
- Don't set them up.
- De-escalate the antagonism.
- Use “I” statements.
Tell the Truth
If you ask most parents what qualities and behaviors they want to see in a well-behaved child, honesty is right up there. Here's a modeling issue—if you want your child to be honest, you must tell the truth yourself.
Now, we all know that there are all sorts of “truths”: the whole truth; the half-truth; the gist of it, “the words are true but it's misleading.” What do I mean, tell the truth?
- Truth-telling with kids doesn't mean confessing all, but it does mean not lying. Being honest about your feelings and your experiences doesn't mean always telling all or publishing it on the Internet. You can be reserved and dignified. Nobody needs to know all your gory details.
- Honesty in front of the kids counts. Be a good role model—if you let them see you lying, cheating, and stealing, you can expect to see them doing the same. (This makes it sound like I'm saying to lie, cheat, and steal when they're not looking. I'm not!)
- Sometimes cruelty is a wolf disguised in a sheep's wool of honesty. “I have to be honest with you.” Honesty doesn't mean being tactless, or telling hurtful truths for the sake of being truthful (“I gotta tell ya, Joe, you're looking pretty lousy.”).
- Truth includes emotional honesty. You have a responsibility to be truthful about what you feel.
- Your child is not your psychologist or your confession-taking priest. It's talking at instead of with your child when you tell them a truth just to get something off your chest and onto his.
Keep Complaints Specific
Keep complaints specific, to the moment. Lumping the whole world into one conversation or fight is known as “gunny sacking”—pulling all your old complaints out of the sack where you store them—and it's a sure way to close a child's ears. You'll know you are gunny sacking when you hear always and never. Be specific about what changes you want to see. Not, “Be more respectful!” but, “Please work on remembering to use a tissue, not your sleeve.”