I haven't read many parenting books. And I know, that's a little surprising for a guy who spends most of his time talking and writing about being a dad.
So, if you chose to read no further, I understand. It's pitiful. I know.
But what I lack in reading and scholarly research, I've compensated for with a lot of observations, conversations with professionals and good old-fashioned trial-and-error. A little over 24 years of it. One of the things I've learned is that being an effective dad requires strong communications with your child. If you can nail that part of the dad job, the rest comes much easier.
A daunting task for sure -- especially as kids get older. So, here are my three top tips to help you grease that two-way road to trust-filled communications with your children.
Put It On Ice
You don't need to react so quickly to every situation. Slow down and think. Erupting like Mt. Vesuvius, spewing words and emotions, doesn't work. It's scary and models inappropriate behavior for your children.
Give yourself a little time to think. A minute. Five. With older kids I might wait several hours or even a day.
The key is to plant the seed with your child that the topic is "open" and that you're going to revisit it with them after the two of you have a chance to mutually think about it.
With little kids who are misbehaving, you can literally pick them up, carry them to their room, and have a firm chat after a couple of minutes of cool-down time. But with older kids, that tactic doesn't work. Additionally, if you verbally attack an older kid in the heat of the moment, they are likely to feel cornered and trapped. You're simply inviting them to verbally attack you back.
That's why (unless someone is at risk of being hurt or hurting someone), I'm now far more likely to say something like, "You know, the way you talk to me is just not working for me. But I'm not going to scream and simply hand you a punishment. I want you to think about it before we talk later this afternoon."
Kids desperately want respect. Even when they don't show it towards you. They want to be heard. When you introduce topics with respect and consideration, it makes it much harder for them to continue their cycle of behavior. Try it.
And when you feel the urge to lecture, limit it to 30 seconds.
Kids hate lectures. I bet you do, too. If you can't get 95 percent of your point made in 30 seconds, then you need to think through your message.
When I feel the need to preach to my kids, I introduce it with, "I need 30 seconds to share something with you that's been on my mind. Is your head in a good place to listen?"
And you know what? Nine times out of 10, my kids tell me to bring it on right then and there.
And you know something else? They listen.
I end my half-minute sermon with something like, "Okay, that's what I wanted you to know. I want to hear your thoughts later today when you're ready to talk."
Sometimes they want to talk right away. Sometimes they noodle and come back on their own. And sometimes I have to bring the subject back up a bit later. But it's almost always a smoother road to a sincere, open conversation.
Start with 30 seconds. It works.
Stop Solving Everything
This one took me years to figure out. It's one that is really hard for dads to get good at because we love fixing and solving things.
I'm talking about those times in life when your kids are mad, upset, hurt, frustrated, or angry over a host of things. Mean friends. Unfair coaches. Tough teachers. Annoying siblings. The list is miles long. I know for me, any time I used to hear another problem de jour, I'd reply to it with strategies for fixing it and make it go away.
"Here's what you need to do with your friends -"
"Next time your coach tells you blah, blah, blah, you should -"
"Well, you should never let your friends tell you -"
And you know what I've learned? Kids don't always want you to tell them what to do. They don't always need you to strategize. They're also far more resilient and capable than you give them credit for.
A lot of times, they just want you to be in the zone with them. Empathize. Go deep. Be in the moment. Experience their feelings. I figured this out one day when my 13-year-old daughter was sulking in her bedroom, angry at mean friends. It tore me apart. I didn't want her to hurt. But at the advice of another wise dad, I tried something new.
I went into her room, laid on the floor, and just stared at the ceiling with her.
And eventually she said, "I hate my friends."
And I replied, "That must suck to feel that way."
And what followed was a dad-changing moment. She told me details of what was going on while I just stared at the ceiling. She told me about her hurt and pain. And I just kept reaffirming my love for her, my sadness at the situation, and my understanding of her feelings.
And she was fine with that. She didn't need me to solve it.
She needed me to experience it with her.
I'm convinced that my actions sent her a far more important message than had I tried to give her an assortment of ideas to fix the specific problem.
So there you have it. My top three tips. And just in case you're thinking, "Taking the easy road, huh?" the truth is all three of these ideas require you to stop, think and really focus on what your child needs. They require conscious parenting.
But slowing down, taking time to think, fine-tuning your message, and acknowledging your child's emotions are collectively some of the best ways to build strong communications.
Try them out. Modify them to work for your family. The rewards are plentiful.
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