How to Communicate with Your Child

Today in Japan more than 3% of all school-age children are truant, or “futoko.” And the numbers are growing.

While it would be nice to live in a society where alternative styles of education were accepted, that future has yet to arrive. So for many of us, it is best to do the best we can within the system as it stands.

So, what can you do, as a parent, to ensure your child stays in school?

In real estate, it is said that the three most important factors are “location, location and location.” For raising children, it’s “communication, communication, communication.”

Communication with your Child:
This almost goes without saying, but in the day to day busi-ness of life, real communication often takes a back seat to commands (“put your toys away,” “brush your teeth”) or confirming our mutual schedules (“after school I’ll pick you up for karate practice”)

All parents have asked the question, “how was your day?” and received a succinct, “fine.” The key is to ask more specific, yet still open-ended questions. “Was the test as hard as you expected?” or “did you go in the pool today?” at first seem like yes/no questions, but they lead themselves to expansion. Of course follow-up questions are allowed and encouraged!

In the Car:
This is almost a magical communication zone. Maybe because we are NOT facing eye-to-eye, or because we are ostensibly doing something else, that communication seems easier. These conversations, “on the way” to the supermarket, to school, to practice, are vital communications with your child. Because the guards are down, real feelings can come to the surface.

When faced with Silence:
Kids are not stupid, and sometimes the only time they can feel power over an adult is to withhold information. Silence, from a kids point of view, is the great equalizer. If they don’t speak, they don’t have to “give” anything, and eventually, they hope, you will stop asking.

Just because a child is not speaking does not mean they are not listening. Feel free to speak your part of the communication, because even if there is no confirmation or response (and it CAN be frustrating!) chances are your child is listening to you quite carefully.

The key point is to make sure your child knows that you will be available to listen when they are ready to open up. If your schedule prevents a heart-to-heart when your child wants it, you CAN schedule private time later with your child. Children are busy too and can understand that you have other, if not more important, commitments in your life. The point is that if you make a promise to talk about school after dinner, you MUST honor that promise with your child. The investment you make will help build trust with your children.

Build Trust by Risking Feelings

You can encourage real communication by your children when you use honest, real communication yourself. “I had a busy day, my boss yelled at me, and I just want 20 minutes to relax by myself,” tells your child where you are emotionally and how you are feeling. Bringing your mood into the communication, WITHOUT EXPLAINING IT, leaves your child bewildered and unsure about which mood, and what kind of parent he will meet each time.

It is important to be real with our children, but we must not burden them with our adult problems. Sometimes, especially in single-parent families, the child becomes a confidant and best friend, when in fact what the child needs most is a parent. If mom is feeling lonely or upset about her boyfriend, or has financial worries, perhaps those issues are better discussed with adult friends. Be careful not to demand that your children solve YOUR problems.


Love letter to Yuto

Man, you are growing up!

Not yet even 3 years old, and already you laugh, make jokes, tell fibs, pour your own milk, wash your own plate, put your laundry away (better than me--just ask mom!) fight with your 11 month old baby sister one minute and then tenderly hug her the next. She loves you, and so do your mom and so do I.

We had a great summer vacation, didn't we?
I will never forget your first trip to the ocean.
"Big one coming!" and we jumped over the little ripples while you held me and giggled.

Fireworks? "I'm not scared!"

Then our time at the pool. I will never forget you "swimming! swimming!" as you kicked your arms and legs as I held you above the water. From the bottom pool step, just up to your neck, I stood a bit away, and you jumped toward me, smiling and with utter confidence that I would be there to hold you. Even as you started to go under, you never stopped smiling. For a flash of a moment of a second I thought what it would be like if I wasn't there to pull you up. You never doubted me.

I hope you never lose that trust in people.

When you walk into a room of strangers, you assume everyone is your friend, that everyone will love you. Usually, you're right.

You look older kids right in the eye, and say, "Konnichiwa!" Hello! Good Afternoon! Nice to meet you! More times then not, shy Japanese kids don't know what to make of your friendliness, and mutter a response, or look for their moms.

You always have trouble getting to bed, going to sleep. Last night was no different. "Go to bed, NOW!" I end up shouting. You cry, "Don't get mad, papa!"

You can sing all the songs from "High School Musical" in English.

You are a good climber.

You are a good wrestler.

You are a fast runner.

Last night, I had to go back to work, to get ready for Monday. You wanted to come too, even at 11:00 at night. "I wanna work!"

Finally, after scoldings from mom and me, you got into your futon and got quiet. After a few minutes, in a real quiet voice, you said, "papa? You can go to work now." My heart felt full. "Mama and I are going to sleep, so you go to work." I was at the genkan entrance of the apartment, frozen. "Papa, suki yo" (I love you). "And tomorrow pick me up from preschool in the black car."

Yuto, you don't have to grow up if you don't want to.


your Papa.



I just saw the semi-new Will Smith movie called, The Persuit of Happyness. I think the Japanese title was "Shiawase no Chikara" or "the Power of Happiness.”
After "I, Robot" and "Hitch," juuust little by little and step by step I am becoming able to watch a movie starring the Fresh Prince of Beverly Hills. I never thought I would say those words.

Anyway, Fresh's son is really a cute kid, as most reviews of the movie will tell you. I guess we are supposed to be rooting for this guy going for his Merril Lynch job, but it is certainly not the most altruistic of dreams. While he was pursuing his version of "Happyness," his son was at a rather questionable Chinatown daycare center watching episodes of the Love Boat.

While I was in tune with the "never give up" message of the movie, my friend Simon, who is always good for a reality check, said that the main character was completely irresponsible. Taking his kid into the subway station restroom to spend the night was supposed to show, I suppose, how desperate he had become, and how commited he was to finish his internship at Merril Lynch. According to friend Simon, he was just being an irresponsible dad.

I guess it is easier to make sacrifices for our dreams when it is only us who is affected by our decisions (successes or failures) Once you have a family, Simon reminded me, your pursuit of Happyness has to take a back seat to insuring the safety and well-being of your kids.

The real villian in the story was the wife/mother, who just skipped out on her family because, as she said, she didn't feel "Happy."

Worth a rental, to see Will Smith's cute son and scenes of San Francisco.