Some recent events in the news and in my world lately have brought a recurring question to the minds and lips of some people around me, even me. Stories about teenagers or young adults who do horrific, violent or even self-destructive things stay rattling around my brain trying to reason how these things happened.

And one question persists: How did this kid’s parents not know that their child was in trouble? That their child was planning something? That their child needed help? What kind of parent doesn’t know their child? So many people want to point blame at the parents for not stopping their child or not controlling their child better or controlling their child better.

As a parent, it’s terrifying enough to raise a child without “screwing up,” are we really responsible for their behavior to the ends of the earth? Is that really the problem? Is a parent responsible for his/her child’s behavior forever? Can a parent’s relationship with their child be a small factor? As a parent, I’m not comfortable with assigning blame or fault to a parent. As we know, we can do everything we think is right for our child and when they leave our homes, we have no control over their actions, feelings, behaviors, thoughts or dream.

But…

we have the ability to reach them like no one else can during the time they are still living under our roof.

Since the dawn of time, some people have just grown up to be evil, full of hatred or even self-hatred. And since the dawn of time, experts in the parenting, mental health and justice fields have all researched solutions, preventative measures and rehabilitative methods.

I’m not a health care professional, nor am I a parenting expert, but I have been wondering if parents can change some of their perspectives to help their child(ren) cope or handle life better? Can we, as parents, focus more energy on knowing our child?

One thing I’ve learned in my few years as a mom (and a step-mom to teenagers) is that there is something I really think I’d like to tackle and consistently work on developing with my family. I’d like to share what I’m trying to focus on with my kids:

COMMUNICATION

COMMUNICATION

COMMUNICATION

I do believe that having strong communication with your children throughout their lives may give them a better chance. Maybe it’s not foolproof, but I think it’s worth the risk to try.

But the biggest thing that we’ve lost is our communication with our children.

I have a 6-year-old that I already struggle to communicate with. Since he was 3 years old, when I ask “how was school today?” he responds with “I don’t know.” “I don’t remember.” “Okay.”  (NOTE: I’ve learned to ask my questions very differently.)

He has no problem voicing his opinion when he’s mad, frustrated or objects to my demands (requests). But it’s hard to get him to talk, share his frustrations and identify emotions. I don’t get words from him, I get, “Aarrrrggghhhhhh. I’M NOT CRANKY!”

When some teenagers I know tell me that they spend their lives in their rooms from the moment they get home from school until the next morning, it makes me cringe. First of all, we had to keep our bedroom doors open the majority of the time when I was growing up. Secondly, we spent considerable time in the kitchen/dining room area when we were home. We (my brother and I) sat on the bar stools at the kitchen counter, doing our homework and talking while my mother made dinner.

(I know many education professionals suggest a quiet place for homework for kids. We all preferred the center of our home universe and it helped when you had questions. I also think it helped me concentrate in college when you can’t always find a “quiet” place.)

Futhermore, I played 3 sports and had 2 parents that worked/traveled full-time. The picture-perfect image of us all bonding in the kitchen was not every night, and it could very well be an post-soccer game 8 pm “tuna on toast” dinner while cramming for test the next day.

As I’ve posted about before, I had a communicative house growing up to the extent that us Robinsons are “communicators.” And throughout our teen years, my parent knew where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, and most importantly, when we were struggling.

I’ll admit that my brother may have easily been an angry kid. He was a loner and spent his time developing his computer knowledge, not making friends or having fun (in the way other teenagers defined fun). And he was ridiculed at school from time to time by a few bullies. He was the kind of kid who most people didn’t “get.” It’s funny when I see how normal (in a loose sense of the word) he is now. But my mother worked very hard at not letting him drift away from the communication standards she wanted in the house. In a firm but warm way, she forced him to communicate, participate and have family time. And he hated it and was resistant for years, but I think he needed it.

But it’s not just about the “forcing,” it’s about making communication meaningful.

I’m always open to new ideas or thoughts on how to help us as parents do what we can to help our children flourish. I’m not a “helicopter parent” by any stretch but I’m trying to make sure I do the best I can for these two boys while juggling the rest of life.

I recently picked up an early version of “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”. And found that it was something I was missing from my “parenting plan.” Yep, that “parenting plan” that I pretend to have but really have no idea.

It may seem wishy-washy to some parents (including friends of mine) who believe that parents should be dictators and feared by their children. That’s just not for me and my family. I don’t want my children to fear me. I want them to know that I will the bearer of rules and consequences, but they also have a voice.
I’m not naïve. I know perfectly well that there will be many things that my boys may keep from me down the road. I’m not sure that I want to know EVERYTHING they do throughout their lives. I certainly don’t want my mother to know every single thing I’ve done.

But I am really focused on communication as a huge piece of the parenting puzzle. Maybe the biggest piece.

Credit
Credit

Just some Googling of Parent/Child communication brings up some great resources for those who need short articles instead of 100+ page books (I get it, I’m a working mom too!).

My advice is to not just go through the motions of trying to listen to your child. Focus your energy and your full attention on your child and be a sincere and honest participant. Kids know when your brain and eyes are somewhere else.

I’m totally guilty of turning to look at my phone or drifting off in some thought about work while listening to my boys. I’m trying to focus much of my energy on total full-attention time each day.

Here is a great list from Children’s Trust Fund
And some tips from the American Psychological Association

The tips/rules/thoughts are consistent:

  • Respect your child
  • Let your child know you are listening
  • Be available
  • Be honest
  • Acknowledge your child’s emotions
  • Focus and listen, undivided attention, etc.

Remember, communicating with your child is not lessening your authoritative role as a parent. You are not throwing the parental hierarchy out the window. The communication should help in the discipline process because you are not just nagging or yelling at your child, you are enforcing house rules and setting standards in a firm but warm way.

Maybe, just maybe “[i]f your child feels that you respect him or her, your child is more likely to comply.” – From Onetoughjob.org

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