As children and teens return to school and lives become more hectic, it’s important that families establish healthy lines of communication that help parents and kids stay in touch. Here are a few recommendations:
Remember to communicate about the positive and the everyday. Sometimes, when things get busy, parents find that they are only really talking with their children when a big issue (usually a negative one) arises. This can lead to the child or teen associating talks with parents to being in trouble. Remember to take time to point out the good things you are seeing, and ask about things that interest your child.
- Make good use of the time you do have together. One often-overlooked time families have together is “car time.”
- Use open-ended conversation-starters, such as, “Tell me about something you are working on at school right now,” or “What is one dream you have for the future?” (For more suggestions, see the “Car Visor Conversation Guide” provided by the Archdiocese of New Orleans).
- When you need to ask a question that may make your child defensive, try asking by “wondering out loud” (e.g., I’m noticing that lately your chores aren’t getting done and I’m wondering why that’s happening”).
- Take time for regular family meals. Eating together is one activity families shouldn’t get as schedules get busier. Regular family meals been shown by research to be associated with higher grades, higher self esteem, lower incidences of depression and suicide, low rates of substance abuse, and many other positive outcomes.
Communicate with others who see your child on a regular basis. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities to meet your child’s teachers, religion teachers, coaches, and others who interact with your child on a regular basis. This is important both for your child’s safety, and so that you can be aware of important things you may not hear from your child (academic struggles, social issues, etc.).
- Pray together. When your family is close to God, you are also more connected with one another, even at those times when you can’t be together.
Beyond texting: Helping kids communicate with peers
As communication becomes more instant through e-mail, texting, and messaging through social networking sites, there is a risk of more shallow – and impulsive – conversation between kids. Here are a few tips for helping your child avoid sending “mixed signals”:
1. If your child is upset at a peer, encourage him or her to avoid texting (where messages are necessarily much shorter) and to have an in-person conversation.
2. Offer yourself as a sounding board. If your child plans to talk in person or over the phone about an important issue, say, “Would you like to go through it with me, so you can make sure you say it just the way you want to?”
3. Encourage your child to read through any e-mail, text messages, or social networking messages before sending them.
4. A good general policy is to avoid saying something online that one would not feel comfortable saying in person.