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Establishing Good Communication

Communicating with children is one of the most important aspects of parenting, if not the most important. Yet many parents give very little thought to precisely how they communicate with their kids. We pick up patterns of dialogue through the way in which our own parents interacted with us, and many moms and dads go through life without ever altering these inherited scripts, no matter how much they and their children might suffer for them.

The benefits of good communication go far beyond simple dialogue. Subtle distinctions in the way you talk with kids will have a tremendous influence over time. The verbal exchanges you have with your children, when multiplied tens of thousands of times over, will shape their development in just about every way possible. Every word you utter is teaching them how to think, what to value, how to behave, and so much more. Specifically, good communication is important for:

1. Discipline:
Good parent-child communication is crucial for discipline. In fact, much of this material relates to topics of discipline, and learning how to communicate better can greatly diminish the need for other forms of discipline.

2. Positive self-esteem:
Parent-child communication forms the basis for a child’s identity. These interactions shape how they think about themselves, and thus, will play a crucial role in a child’s self-esteem.

3. Social skills:
How you talk to your children in the home forms the template they will carry with them into the world at large. Therefore positive communication styles in the home will translate into good social skills and positive peer relationships, whereas negative ones mean a child will experience far more problems as they navigate their way through life.

4. IQ and cognitive abilities:
How you speak to your children can either increase or decrease their intelligence. It’s not just about how many words you speak, but the way in which you communicate that matters. For example, parents who make a habit of asking lots of questions foster creative thinking, and those who guide children to come up with their own solutions develop leadership qualities better than those who are always issuing commands and telling children what to do.

With so much riding on communication, I’m sure you’ll find the information in this book to be an invaluable resource for your family.

The basics of parent-child communication

  • The importance of good parent-child communication
  • Changing the way you communicate with children
  • Laying the framework for healthy parent-child communication
  • Becoming a less reactive and more thoughtful parent (e-book)
  • The critical parent
  • How being judgmental can harm communication
  • Judgmental statements that almost every parent makes
  • Why you should never act shocked
  • Making conversation a two way street
  • Getting kids to talk about their day
  • Raising a more talkative child (eBook)

The Importance of Good Parent-Child Communication

So how important is good parent-child communication? Here are some examples that illustrate just how powerful the dialogue with your children can be.

The effects of good communication on a child’s behavior

One study of 69 families with firstborn sons found that parents who had more trouble managing their son’s behavior at ages 15 and 21 months were also those who tended to give their sons simple directives without elaborating on their commands (“don’t touch that knife”) whereas those parents who combined such instructions with explanations, as in “Don’t touch that knife, it could hurt you,” had fewer problems and better behaved children. (Belsky, Woodworth & Crnic, 1996)

Slight speech variations such as this can have a tremendous impact on a child’s behavior, and this is just one example. Whether parents state things in a positive versus negative way, what type of language they use when reprimanding children, and what type of questions they present in guiding them will all influence their child’s behavior. It’s not an overstatement to say that the way you talk can either make or break a child’s behavior.

Why talking gives you greater influence over your children

Ironically, one common objection to the idea of becoming a better communicator comes from parents who think such tailored dialogue undermines their authority. “I shouldn’t have to speak in a way my child likes,” they think. “They should listen because I’m the boss and what I say goes!”

This is a rather flawed way of looking at things. As Dreikurs and Soltz argue, “Many think that the ‘new psychological approach’ means yielding to the children, giving up any leadership. The opposite is true. When we fail to sit down with our children to talk over the current problems, when we fail to let them express their opinions and listen to them, then they really do what they want and we lose every influence over their behavior.” (1964, pp. 299-300) The bottom line: All people (kids included) are more likely to respect an effective communicator than a non-effective one.

The way you talk will alter your child’s development A study in Maternal and Child Health Journal found that mothers and fathers who mainly talk to their children using commands rather than reasoning may actually be stunting their child’s brain development. They stumbled upon this conclusion while trying to figure out the cause of poor school performance exhibited by minority children.

In a group of delayed children from Mexican-American families, it was found that a mere 8% of exchanges included “reasoning,” whereas “direct verbal commands” accounted for 42% of all parenting efforts. The comparison group of white families, on the other hand, utilized reasoning techniques more than a third of the time, thus “inviting more complex thought and development,” says Bruce Fuller, co-author of the study. This difference in communication styles between the two cultures added up, so that the Latino toddlers fell up to 6 months behind the other children in basic language and thinking skills by the time they were two- or three-years-old. (Dokoupil, 11-9-2009) Whether black, white, or Latino, the way in which you communicate will guide your child’s development.

Good communication will increase your child’s intelligence

The more parents converse with their children (more words, longer words, complete sentences) between birth and age 4, the greater a child’s vocabulary. By 28 months, those who talk a lot have children with a 900+ word vocabulary, compared to around 200 for those who don’t – a more than fourfold increase. (Huttenlocher et al., 1991)

This, in turn, has a domino effect that carries over into academic success: From birth to age 5, those starting school with the weakest vocabulary had parents who spoke an average of 1,000 words per day. Over 5 years, it adds up to 2 million words. But contrast that with the kids who exhibited the best vocabulary. These parents had been speaking anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 words per day, which over the course of 5 years amounted to several million more words! (Hart & Risley, 1992) Vocabulary has an impact on how well children learn to read, and how well they read has an impact on every other subject.

Summing it up
This is only a sampling of the research we could present you with that demonstrates the power of parent-child communication. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what can be gained by even minor improvements in this area.

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