Five Great Ways to Bring Truly Open Communication to Your Home
By Hannah Herring
Recently, my boyfriend broke up with me but actually wasn’t terribly brokenhearted about it. My dad and I went out to eat together one evening and talked about it. Although I hesitated at first because I was nervous he would be overprotective, I finally shared some things that had hurt me during the relationship. After waiting for a second, my dad started laughing. Hard. After a moment of minor shock, I started laughing too, struck by the utter ridiculousness of the situation I had just described.
When I was young, my parents began a monthly date night with a different child every month. Mom would take one sibling while Pop took another. It was listed on the calendar so everyone could see whose month it was and which parent with whom they were going. The child usually got to pick the activity, and the parent and child went and had fun together for a short time on a Friday or Saturday night.
There were times when it was a little bit awkward because we didn’t know what to talk about or how to interact with one another. As time went by, though, my relationships with both of my parents began to change, and we learned to talk with each other more easily. The fact that I opened up to my father about one of my recent relationships is a testament to the fact that my parents had taught us to trust them and that they would be there no matter what.
Open communication is “the flow of information between people” allowing both people to express themselves and to feel heard (Manker). Between parents and children, it typically must start with the parents.
Why is open communication so important? In my story above, if I had not felt comfortable talking to my dad about my dating relationship, I probably would have sat on those issues that bothered me for a long time, allowing them to fester and create hard feelings against the young man. Communication with our kids gives them an avenue for releasing stress and receiving advice and also provides a sounding board for them. Sometimes we simply need to bounce ideas and thoughts off of someone. Parents, we can provide these things for our kids if we practice open communication! If we don’t, we can be sure they will find this stress relief, advice, and sounding board in other people, potentially people who will give them wrong ideas and even dangerous advice.
When we do not give our children a good example and time to practice how to communicate and how to listen, we are forcing them to learn communication in more difficult, and often less forgiving, ways and places than our homes hopefully are.
Here are 5 Great Ways to Create and Improve Open Communication in Your Home:
- Plan times to talk with your children. Dinner is a great time! Setting aside time every week to have a family council is also a good time to have conversations with your children. For a lesson about family councils, look at For Parents: How to Have A Family Council. If you need to plan more specific times to teach and talk with your children, set aside a night each week to do so. Ask questions such as, “How is (soccer, choir, theatre, basketball, track, etc.) going?” “What have you been reading lately?” “Who have you hung out with this week?” Then, listen.
- “Date night” with your kids is a good way to spend individual time with each child. It doesn’t need to be expensive or incredibly long, but spending one-on-one time with each child doing something that they like will help you to learn about them, and it will strengthen your ability to communicate with one another. A walk, a little treat, a movie, or a game night are all simple and can be a lot of fun. Talk about your own day as well as listen to your child talk about theirs.
- Be open about your own emotions. It’s difficult to talk to someone who doesn’t share anything about themselves. Don’t burden them with all of your troubles, but it’s ok to tell them that it was a long day and you’re tired. Healthy emotional disclosure with your children can be quite simple. Telling a child you’ve been a bit frustrated today might be good. However, using your child as a sounding board or as someone to vent to isn’t. They want to know how you are doing, but they are not equipped to be, nor should they be your emotional support. If you need emotional support, there are many different resources you can turn to.
- It’s hard but listen to your kids. Three things you can do to listen to your kids is to look at them, put other distractions aside, and respond to them as people. Talk to them and express interest and investment in their concerns, hobbies, and stories.
- Pay attention to the details of what your child tells you. You can understand a lot about your child if you listen to the little things they say. Listening to them and listening to the details they give will be essential in helping you know how to respond to them as a real person with experience, advice, and a lot of love.
Whether it’s a date night, a family council, or a simple sharing of emotions and experiences from the day, open communication starts with parents. For more ways to strengthen your relationship and improve communication with your children, check out Four Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child This Year. You can also check out our book, Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age– which encourage open communication and discussion between parents and kids.
Hannah is from Utah and is a graduate student at Friends University studying Family Therapy. She plans to go into counseling with an emphasis in addiction recovery and trauma. From a large family, she loves children and their protection and education is a top priority.
CitationsManker, A. D. (n.d.). Open Communication in the Workplace: Definition, Skills & Benefits. Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/open-communication-in-the- workplace-definition-skills-benefits.html