How Positive Communication Can Improve Your Child’s Emotional Health
Having open lines of communication with your child is so important. But what happens when lines of communication get broken, your child stops opening up, maybe starts lying, or just shuts down and gets frustrated when you try to talk to them?
Have you ever thought that you may be part of the reason communication is broken with your child?
As a counselor for teenagers, I primarily hear their perspective as opposed to the parent's perspective. As a parent, I know perspectives are often different, and that's ok.
I realized the other day that I often encourage my teenage clients to have conversations with their parents that the parents should be initiating, not the child.
Say you have a 15-year-old with a driver permit. You're letting them drive and instruct them to do something. They don't do what you say, and you become frustrated with them.
They try to tell you they misunderstood and explain why they did what they did, but you're still frustrated because what you instructed them to do was very clear.
At least it was very clear in your mind.
You get home safely, and that's the end of that. But what if you communicated something to your child that had nothing to do with the driving instructions?
What if the way your responded made them feel like you think they're stupid? Or they feel like they are never heard. Or believe that what they say or feel doesn't matter.
This is just one example, but you are likely communicating broken messages like these to your child without even realizing it or meaning to.
Now you're human and broken, we all are, so no matter how hard you try, you will still communicate broken messages to your child.
But how do you address it and initiate conversations that will bring those broken messages to the surface, so the truth is communicated instead?
Here are five things you can start doing now to communicate positively with your child/children of all ages. It's never too early or too late to start.
1. After an argument with your child, go back and talk to them once you both calm down.
When you do this, ask your child if you hurt their feelings in any way. Ask them if you made them feel unheard or like you didn't care about what they had to say. Engage them and acknowledge what they express whether or not you agree.
They need to feel heard. Your child needs to know their feelings matter, and they have a voice. If they don't learn this with their parents, they will struggle when they are adults and out on their own.
2. Affirm your child daily
The more affirmation your child receives from you, the more secure they will feel in their relationship with you. If your child rarely hears you tell them you love them, are proud of them, think they're smart, etc.… they probably don't believe that you feel or think those things.
So, when breaks in communication happen, the negative message will be stronger than the rare positive message.
A child who feels securely loved by their parents will have a greater ability to bounce back from disagreements and tension because they don't doubt that you love them and positively view them.
You can never affirm your child too much!
3. Grow in your own self-awareness
Self-awareness is powerful. Not only does it impact you personally, but it affects those you interact with daily, whether that is at home, work, or in other relationships.
Dictionary.com defines self-awareness as the "conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires."
Growing in self-awareness can be painful and humbling, but it is so valuable. If you are self-aware, you will likely catch yourself in the moments you may be sending negative messages.
You may even be able to stop yourself before you send one. And if not, it will give you more insight into how to approach your child after the negative message is sent.
4. Model how to express your emotions in a healthy way
This comes with having self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the better you will be at healthily expressing emotions. Children need to learn how to express their feelings. They need to know that it's ok to feel different emotions.
A way to express your emotions healthily is to verbalize your feelings for your child to hear. If you're feeling stressed or anxious, state, "I'm feeling anxious today, I have so much I need to get done, and it is stressing me out."
Obviously, your child shouldn't and doesn't need to know all of your emotions and the reasons behind them, but if they hear you acknowledge feelings and name why you feel those emotions, they will learn to do the same with their own emotions.
5. Don't lie to your child about your feelings.
Kids are smart. They pick up on cues, and they often sense our emotions, as parents, whether we say them or not. So, if your child asks if they are annoying you and they are, say yes.
The other day my daughter was talking a mile a minute while I was trying to get something done. Naturally, I was annoyed, and she sensed it. She asked if she was annoying me, and I said yes.
I followed it up by explaining that I love hearing her talk, but I really needed to finish what I was working on, so I was feeling annoyed because I kept getting distracted.
She sensed I was annoyed, and asked. If I had lied and said no, even if it were a well-intended lie, it would create more insecurity for my daughter because she can tell I am annoyed whether I say it or not.
Our children want and need to trust us.
Your child will annoy you, frustrate you, and upset you, and they will do the same to other people throughout their life. It's normal, and they need to learn that it's normal and learn how to work through it.
By doing the five things listed above, you will strengthen your relationship with your child, and create a more secure bond with them. You and your child will be aware of the negative messages being sent unintentionally, and you will be able to replace the negative messages with positive ones. This will in turn promote the emotional health of your child.
Pursue your child. Start conversations. Create a secure place for them to express themselves and not doubt your love for them.
Know that you will mess up, you will hurt your child, and you will communicate negative messages you don't mean to. Remember to affirm your child, be honest with them, apologize when necessary, and never stop pursuing their heart!