Good communication is the backbone of any good relationship. In a family, healthy interaction provides a framework in which love and intimacy can thrive. Each family member learns to give (and receive) respect and acceptance. In this way, communication allows families to grow stronger, as a group and as individuals.
At least, that’s how it should work. But often solid communication skills go out the window when your child is defiantly disobeying you. Have you ever heard siblings in the middle of an argument? (Or maybe you’ve been one of those siblings?) Then you know that is NOT an environment where love and acceptance thrive. It’s during times like these that emotions run high and anger takes over. Parents and children often say and do things that they regret later. Hurt feelings and lack of trust can result when a family doesn’t use good communication skills during times of conflict.
The fact is, it isn’t that hard to relate lovingly to the people you love when everything is going well. The real test for a family is how they communicate when things are tense. Parents play an essential role in teaching their children how to treat people when they are upset and angry. Parents need to teach their children certain communication skills so they can be angry without hurting someone else. Some of the most important things to teach children include:
- Being loud does NOT mean you’re being heard. In fact, the opposite is true. Yelling at someone usually makes that person tune you out. We parents are often guilty of forgetting this, and yelling at our kids to “make them listen.” Instead we should model being stern and authoritative, without raising our voice. (It takes practice, but it can be done!)
- Love and respect are more important than winning. One thing is vital to remember here: personal attacks are the most damaging, and the hardest to undo. When you criticize someone’s looks, intelligence, personality, or other parts of who they are, you quickly cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Personal attacks made in the middle of arguments can leave emotional scars that never heal.
- Let kids know what the boundaries are. Boundaries include personal attacks, as in the preceding point. But they also include expressing hatred for one another, and saying things that aren’t true just to make a point. Maybe the most important boundary: no physical violence! Physical violence can escalate in seconds, with disastrous consequences. It should not be allowed.
- Forgiveness is immediate, and absolute. In arguments, usually both sides have reason to ask forgiveness. When the arguing is over it’s time to reconnect. One great way to reconnect is for each person involved to apologize for his or her part of the conflict. Don’t let disagreements linger. Life is too short to spend time pouting over hurt feelings.
Two final thoughts are important to remember. No family learns these skills overnight. There will be failures and setbacks along the way. But children who communicate well during conflict will develop deeper, more satisfying relationships with the people they love.
Parents have two vital roles in helping their kids to learn these skills. First, parents teach by reminding their children, even in the heat of a conflict, about communicating respectfully. Second, parents need to model these principles in their own communications. When we parents fail to live up to the standards we teach, we need to be quick to acknowledge our failures and ask for forgiveness. Kids really do follow our actions as much they follow our words.