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.

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