Three Healthy Ways to Communicate As a Family
Almost 80% of children and youth report their parents and guardians as the people they go to help them make decisions. What does this mean? It means that if a child or youth is trying to decide something about their life, they want to go to their guardian(s) or parent(s) for help first.
Healthy Tip # 1: A child or teen is not afraid to share how they feel with their parent(s) or guardian(s) (Bethel, Jones, Gombojax, Linkenbach, & Sege, 2019). That’s right, it is helpful for children and teens to say “I feel upset” or “I am sad” or “That hurt me when I…” without someone telling them “You are fine”. If a parent or guardian does tell a child or teen they are “fine” it may also mean that they grew up hearing “You are fine” as a child or teen, too.
There is hope in this matter. If a parent and guardian notices they say, “You are fine” and remember how they felt as a child in a similar situation, they can change what they say to their children. This is an example of how parent(s) or guardian(s) can change old patterns they grew up to learn and make a new pattern.
Healthy Tip # 2: Children and teens want to feel that their parent(s) and/or guardian(s) give them support during a very hard time. Children and teens will go through hard times with their friends, grades, sports, mental health, and many other circumstances. Support can come in a parent saying, “I love you and I am here for you”. It is expressing love even if a child does makes a decision that looks different than a family member hopes for them. Acceptance and love of a child and teen does not mean agreement with decisions. It means that as a parent you say I am here for you and I love you as you go through this. It may mean listening to the child or teen as they think through their feelings and possible decisions.
Healthy Tip # 3: A child or teen wants to feel that their parent(s) and/or guardian(s) give them their attention. Today, there are so many little and big things that may take away a parent’s attention. It can be their work, phone, and other people; yet children and teens long for their parent(s) and/or guardian(s) presence. For example, enjoying dinner as a family where each person asks about their favorite memory of the year and talks back and forth to each other can be the greatest gift. As a non-example, looking at phones or watching TV without really listening to each other is something that speaks to the child or teen that they do not matter or that they are not valued. Of course, other things may be pressing but if this happens often, the message to the child or teen is that they are not important. It is helpful to be mindful of how to be present with children and youth and take one small step each day to communicate.
Bethel, C., Jones, J., Gombojax, N., Linkenbach, J., Sege, R. (2019) Positive childhood experiences and adult mental and relational health in a statewide sample. Associations across adverse childhood experience levels. JAMA Pediatrics, p. 1-10.