How to Improve Communication With Your Kids
Regular communication between parents and children is important and becomes increasingly more so as children enter the teen years.
Something that has helped my own family is participating in scheduled one-on-one meetings with my kids.
Why the need for scheduled parent-child meetings?
It can be easy to drift apart and not communicate enough with your children. Work drains parents of energy and time. Kids’ days are full of schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and electronic entertainment. All this busyness tends to cause parents to have meaningful talks only when negative events occur such as when kids get bad grades or when they’re emotionally distressed.
Scheduled meetings act as an effective counter to this busyness. Participating in regular meetings builds long-term trust with your child and also helps you be aware of what’s going on in their life before an emergency arises.
Where and when should you have parent-child meetings?
The time and frequency of parent-child meetings are specific to your family situation. As a general rule, though, meetings that occur every two weeks are a good frequency to shoot for.
The location of the meetings again depends on your family situation. If staying at home works best because of time constraints, then great, do that. Make sure you have the meetings in a room with the door closed so the child feels they can talk about anything without other family members overhearing.
If you can spare the time, go to another location outside of the home, such as a coffee shop or the mall. When you conduct the meeting in a special location away from home, it can be viewed as a special outing that is looked forward to by you and your child.
How should the meeting be conducted?
The following are some of the topics I have found helpful in a typical meeting.
To start each meeting, keep it very loose and informal. Just ask your child how things are going, what’s going on in their life, and how they’ve been feeling lately. Ask them about what’s been troubling them or what they’ve been feeling good about. Then just see how things flow from there.
It’s important to try to do more listening than talking, and then follow up regarding whatever topics they mention.
Follow up on topics from previous meetings
Once the informal discussion is done, follow up with any topics from previous sessions. These could involve problems they were experiencing at school, general worries, or perhaps events they were looking forward to. Once you prompt them about these things, again go into listening mode.
You may be able to offer suggestions to help them with various problems in their lives, but be tactful – don’t just jump in and tell them what to do. Make sure they’re receptive to it, and, if uncertain, say less rather than push an idea.
Review your family code with the child
After you’ve discussed previous topics, it could be a good time to discuss your family code if you have one (see quick tip below). As a quick reminder, a family code is a formal list of ideas that capture the value system of your family.
The way this is presented and talked in your meeting would vary depending on the age of the child. With my pre-teens, I like to show them the code and then ask them what various items mean to them. I ask how they think they’ve been doing on the code overall (a quick rating of 1 to 10). Additionally, I ask which items they’ve struggled with lately, and which items they’ve done well at. For the items they’ve struggled with, I ask them how they can do better in the future.
The family code is also a good thing to use to get a quick assessment of their friends, in the event you have any concerns. Something that works especially well on pre-teens is to ask them how well their various friends adhere to the code on a rating of 1-10. This can open up some interesting discussions (for instance, “Why do you think Johnny only rates a ‘three’ on our family code?”)
To learn more about creating and using a family code, check out How to Teach Kids How to Do the Right Thing and the associated example family codes.
Ask how you as a parent can do better
Ask your child to give you open and honest feedback about the job you are doing as a parent and how you can improve at being better at it. Doing so will not only give you a chance to improve, but it will also let your child know that you respect their views. It communicates that you want to make things better no matter the cause, that problems that may be occurring in the family aren’t just because of them, and that everyone needs to take responsibility for problems they may be causing.
Having regular meetings prevents problems from becoming emergencies
Today’s world is full of distractions and we are all busier than ever. This is a recipe for problems within the family since serious discussions between parents and children can be overlooked and forgotten. Scheduling parent-child meetings can help keep things running smoothly by ensuring open and honest communications regularly occurs.