At age six or seven I proudly and boldly informed my mom that I knew all about sex. She was rather horrified, but I didn’t notice. I was concentrating on correctly reciting what I had heard. I continued with, “There is the boy sex, and the girl sex, and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the insects.” I don’t think she laughed as I expected her to do. Instead there was a huge sigh of relief. Actually I didn’t understand the joke myself. That event occurred many decades ago and she still tells the story.
Kids sometimes say shocking things. It may simply be to find out how you will react. I once had a youth tell me on the first day we met, his two heroes were well known mass murderers. One was fictional. I believe my only reply was a calm, “oh.” He never brought it up again. Today he is a hard-working, husband and dad.
I have often told students in youth ministry that they could probably say anything to their parents, if they said it in a respectful way. That may not be true in an abusive or dysfunctional home, but should be true in most homes.
We want our children to be comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, problems, struggles, dreams, hopes, conflicts, worries, or fears. Therefore we must be good listeners and value the things they say to us. Keep ridicule and sarcasm locked in the closet. Be encouraging. If you respond negatively toward their ideas and thoughts, they may think you feel negatively about them.
If you can nurture positive communication while they are in the grade school years, the teen years will be smoother. Teach them what a respectful tone sounds and looks like. It needs to be calm and not loud. It needs to be filled with “I” statements and not accusations.
Teach them diplomacy, tact and timing. Bringing up a conflict or presenting an out-of-the-box idea will be received better at some times than at others. When there is a disagreement ask them to offer alternatives. Perhaps consider a trial period to try an alternative solution.
Privacy is another area where children must be taught. I recall my parents repeatedly telling us before a vacation that we did not, and should not, talk about our trip. We were told that friends did not need to know where we were going or that we would be out of town. When our neighbor’s house was robbed and vandalized while they were on vacation, the lesson was secured in my mind. Help your children learn which topics are appropriate in which situations. Of course, most of the time this learning process is awkward and maybe even embarrassing, but everyone will survive.
When people are hungry, angry or tired (H,A,T,) is not the best time to decide or resolve issues. That is a good time to say, “I can’t discuss this now, can we do it later?” Then be sure to choose another time and do it. When screaming and yelling begins, most real communication ends.
When my children were little, I often told them I could not hear them when they were whining or begging. Never accept demands, lies, foul language, or insults from your children. These are counterproductive to meaningful conversation. Yes, there are many appropriate times for parents to give orders and expect obedience. Requests accompanied by please and thank you are suitable at other times.
Communication skills are priceless skills which will be a benefit to your family and to your children in school, in the work place, and in their future relationships. Model them and teach them.