Former First Lady Barbara Bush, once said “Your success as a family—our success as a nation—depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.” It is in the home, after all, where children first learn to talk, to share, to say please and thank you, to express emotions, to sing, to laugh, and— hopefully—to love.
Children who learn to communicate effectively at home go out into the world prepared to practice those learned communication skills, solve problems, and lead the future children of the world.
Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively with your children and thus increase the chance for success as a family . . . and as a nation:
1. Allow children to freely express their feelings.
Tell your child that her thoughts, opinions, and feelings are valued. Reinforce your words by using the tips that follow. A child who knows her thoughts and feelings are valued at home is better able to express herself in environments outside the home, such as at school, in sports activities, and, later, in the work force.
2. Truly listen to your children.
This means putting away other distractions when your child is talking to you. Close the book you’re reading, put down the iPhone, turn off the TV. Don’t interrupt a child while he is speaking. If you happen to be doing something that he can join you in, invite him to do so and then listen while you work together.
For example, if you’re preparing dinner or changing the oil in your car or gardening, ask your child to work alongside you. Sharing experiences with your child can be as important—and beneficial—as sharing conversations.
3. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues you give your children.
Look at your child when she is speaking to you. Smile and nod responsively to demonstrate encouragement. Make sure your tone and body language match what you are saying. For example, don’t shake your head in seeming exasperation while at the same time saying words that you want to come across as encouraging.
Check your posture. Are your arms crossed against your chest? This might lead a child—or anyone, really—to feel that you are inaccessible or angry. Are you towering over your child while she sits on the floor or a bed? Instead, sit next to your child. Physically get on her level while you talk with her.
4. Make sure you understand what your children are saying.
After you let your child finish speaking, ask him if you are understanding him correctly. You may want to repeat back to him what he said and ask if you got it right.
Saying something similar to, “It sounds like things didn’t go as planned, is this right?” or “It sounds like you’re really worried about this, are you?” can help your child know that you are truly listening and trying to understand him. This is especially important when a child is upset or anxious and speaking quickly and excitedly.
5. Think before you react.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you may need to give yourself a little bit of time. Remember that silence is okay. If you need to stay silent for a minute before responding, that’s fine. It helps you to calm down and gather your thoughts. And being silent is always far better than blowing up.
6. Be willing to laugh about things when needed.
Appropriate laughter can lighten the moment and reassure your child that you’re not angry with her when something goes awry. If your child spills something or makes a mess, rather than reacting with anger, perhaps think of a time when you were in a similar situation and share that story. Laughter can diffuse many tense moments. Just make sure you are never laughing at your child, only with her.
7. Don’t name call or threaten.
Not only do these things frighten and discourage your child, but they also teach him that such tactics are common behavior. Likewise, don’t disparage other people—especially a spouse, relative, or ex-spouse—in front of your child. A child will model his parents’ behavior and quickly pick up on attitudes and feelings. If he hears you being negative and critical about others, he is likely to become that way himself.
8. Share family stories.
One of the best ways to build confidence and a sense of self in a child is to help her learn about the past . . . specifically, her family’s past. A treasured news article reported on a slew of studies that demonstrate the value of passing on family stories: “Experimental studies show that when parents learn to reminisce about everyday events with their preschool children in more detailed ways, their children tell richer, more complete narratives to other adults one to two years later compared to children whose parents didn’t learn the new reminiscing techniques. Children of the parents who learned new ways to reminisce also demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions.
These advanced narrative and emotional skills serve children well in the school years when reading complex material and learning to get along with others.
In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.”
9. Make your home a comforting place.
Let your child know that your home—his home—is a place of refuge, a place where he can talk without fear of judgment and a place he can run to when the outside world doesn’t seem to understand him or care about him.
There are many ways to do this, but sometimes the simplest way is to come right out and tell your child this. Tell him you love him . . . and say it often. Remind him that when you are upset, it’s never him you are upset with but his behavior or the circumstances. (Sometimes, you might need to remind yourself of this truth as well.)
10. Using Essential Oils to Foster Communication
One unique way to make your home a comforting place is to use essential oils. Here are three equally unique ways to do so:
• Diffuse an invigorating, pleasant oil, such as petitgrain, while your child studies to help him focus. Petitgrain, which is made from the leaves of bitter orange, is an extraordinarily potent mood elevator. It may help stimulate the mind, promote the recall of positive memories, and reduce mental fatigue. The scent is vibrant and refreshing and clears the mind so you—and your child—can focus better.
• Use lavender to calm your child and yourself. Lavender is sometimes called the oil of communication. It enhances cellular communication, which calms anxieties and promotes peace. It can also help lull little ones to sleep—and a rested child is always a happy child. Diffuse lavender at bedtime. Rub it on your child’s feet if she is feeling anxious or worried. Apply it to your own wrists and inhale when you need support or patience.
• Diffuse an equal ratio of Roman chamomile, peppermint, and sage in the mornings as you and your child get ready for the day. This blend helps open the mind to set a positive tone for the day; and an open mind encourages creative thinking and wise communication.
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