Learn How to Listen
Learning to practice receptive communication is an important aspect of improving parent-child interactions. It is imperative that what you are saying (or what your child is expressing to you) is heard and understood. Reflective listening, a part of receptive communication, can be used to better understand your child.
When using reflective listening, stop all your activities and focus on your child. Kneel, sit down, or pick up your child so you are on the same level. While your child is talking, really listen. Ask yourself, "What is my child feeling?" Then, repeat what you have heard (or in the case of younger children, what you believe they are expressing). Just as a mirror reflects an image, you will reflect to your child what he or she has just said to you.
Key words to use in reflective listening are you, feel and because. A reflective listening statement for our impatient toddler and bill-paying mom could sound something like this: "You feel angry because you want to go to the park right now and I am working."
"It is important for [toddlers and preschoolers] to be able to verbalize their feelings," says Terry Meredith, a Speech and Language Pathologist with TLM Consulting and a trainer of Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP). "Parents can also let children know it's OK to have more than one feeling at a time." For example, your toddler probably felt both angry and hopeful about wanting to go to the park as soon as possible.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Remember that your state of mind is always being communicated through non-verbal cues. Conduct and the way you carry yourself can sometimes say more than your words.
You let out a long sigh as you mop up the milk your two-year-old just sent over the edge of the table. A small voice asks, "Daddy, mad?" You stand up, clench your fists, furrow your brow, and say through gritted teeth in the calmest voice you can muster, "No. Daddy is not mad." Then you turn on your heels and storm out of the room.
Obviously you are mad. Actions, tone, and demeanor say more than words can. And your actions and words are giving your child a mixed message—you deny your true feelings but let your body play them out.
"Much of what we communicate comes though non-verbal communication," says Meredith. "Make sure your non-verbal communication matches what you are saying," she advises.
All of these techniques can be used to communicate positive things to your children as well. Here is an exercise every parent should practice several times a day: Sit down and put your child on your lap, wrap your arms around him, and look him in the eye. Then say these words: "I feel happy when you are with me because I love you."