According to Tracey Serebin, a family dynamics and communication specialist who specializes in workshops, coaching and writing, communication should occur between parents and their kids on a regular basis. She notes, "I would prefer to see how they are doing daily -- what's going on with their friends, what they are thinking, what they are feeling... a lot goes on in a child/teen's world, and it is best to be on top of [it all] before any problem goes too far. Discussions around the dinner table are great... Families should be sitting down all together to eat at least three or four times a week. The best communication method is one on one, face to face -- not through all these electronic devices."
Text messaging, emails and IMs tempt us to communicate in a form of shorthand. Tracey says that should be no substitute for substantial communication, however. "This is causing a major breakdown in communication for kids/teens because they don't know how to communicate their feelings. They are finding it hard to work through problems and conflicts with their peers, and they don't know how to talk to the adults in their lives (teachers, parents, etc.)." She says it's up to the parents to help their kids learn how to communicate effectively by example -- and by talking with their kids about what they are feeling and going through.
If sitting down at the dinner table every night seems a bit daunting due to camp schedules or school year activities, experts say to shut everything off (yes, as in the TV) and have quality conversations at some other time when everyone's together. Sit outside on the patio, go for a long walk at night or do a family activity together -- anything during which you can make talking the top priority.
Claudine Wolk, mom blogger at hybridmom.com and help4newmom.com as well as author of It Gets Easier! And Other Lies We Tell New Mothers, agrees. In fact, she says one way to learn more about your kids through communication entails making yourself more available to them. This means talking about yourself and your own experiences as a kid. She explains, "Kids love to hear stories about their parents. When they hear you opening up about yourself, they feel more comfortable to talk about themselves."
Show interest in things your kids like, she says, even if you're not into those things. "[This will] mean a lot to your kids and will go a long way toward your kids opening up. Your interest will also open a dialogue of topics that you can discuss outside of their behavior."
Above all, Claudine says it's about empowering your kids. For example, share your feelings on a situation that is important but that doesn't directly involve them. "For example, if one of the neighbors gets into some trouble, you can ask your kids how they feel about the situation." She says after they share their views, you can share yours. Because the trouble is not theirs, there's a safety zone to express their own opinions. Bottom line: You'll learn lots about your kids and their lives through regular dialogue and conversation.
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