Families are busy. I get it. It’s difficult to manage multiple schedules that include work, school, homework, sports, and extracurricular activities. Oh yeah, and you also need to eat and sleep at some point. We spend so much time DOING things and being busy that we forget the most important piece: connection. We are around our families every day, but do we really know each other? Here are some easy ways to open the lines of communication between you, your spouse, and your kids.
Make time for just you and your spouse, without the kids. You and your spouse are partners. It is imperative that you take time to spend with each other. I strongly encourage all couples to have at least one weekend each quarter dedicated to just having fun with each other. This can be a trip out of town, or a weekend at home working on a new (fun) project, but the most important component is that there are NO KIDS around. Why? This gives you the opportunity to put 100% of your time, energy and focus onto your spouse. Remember when you had just met and were newly dating? Recreate some of those moments! This time together will maintain and strengthen your relationship. Imagine driving your car for years without ever changing the oil or driving with a flat tire for weeks. It won’t be long before the rest of the car begins to deteriorate. The same is true for relationships. If we don’t maintain them and invest in them, then we will have a “lemon”, just a shell and a semblance of a relationship with no functioning parts. In addition to planning a fun weekend that you enjoy occasionally, it’s important to spend time together throughout the week. This time can be brief, but it does need to be frequent, preferably a few times each week. For instance, 10-15 minutes talking before bed, or drinking coffee together in the morning can provide ample time to discuss what’s going on with the kids and plans for the week. This helps you stay in tune with each other, so that you know if your spouse had a rough week at work, or had some major breakthroughs and accomplishments. Never use this time to criticize or complain. This time should be positive and encouraging for both partners. If done correctly, you will probably find that this becomes a time that you both look forward to!
Spend at least 10-15 minutes talking to your kids with NO complaints, requests, or criticisms. This is the best way to get your child to open up and really tell you what’s going on in their world. Don’t expect them to tell you everything, but they will share enough to give you an idea about the challenges they face as well as their strengths. Talking to your children without complaining, criticizing or making requests is easier said than done. In fact, I spend hour long sessions with some parents, just coaching them on this one skill! That’s how important it is in establishing a healthy, open relationship with your children! Your children should see and experience frequent interactions with you in which they can say anything without your judgment or criticism. For example, say your child comes to you and says, “I think I failed my math test”. Our natural inclination might be to say something like “Well, did you study??!” As parents we are ready to fix or critique, but before our kids will trust us with that part, they need to know we fully understand. Our first job is to listen. You can show your child you’re listening by responding with something like “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you think you failed. What happened?” This response simply ends with an open-ended question to elicit more information. Essentially, that’s the goal. You want to interact with your child in such a way that makes them feel like they want to share more. But too often, our responses shut them down instead. Trust me, this is NOT an easy skill, and you may mess up a few times, but with practice, you can master it!
Make sure your home is full of positive energy. If your home is a place of arguing, criticizing or finding fault in others, your family members will likely begin to withdraw and may even exhibit some anger and depression. I hear many adults complain that their child never comes out of their room, but parents, let me tell you, it is our responsibility make our home into a place where our kids want to be! You are competing with whatever activity is consuming their attention in their room or on their phone, so let them see you act silly! Let them teach you how to do the latest dance move, or break out a deck of cards and play. Again, this time doesn’t have to last a long time, it can be brief, but it needs to be positive! Make sure your children hear a lot of specific praise from you. By specific, I mean tell them EXACTLY what they are doing that you like. For example, specific praise would be “Good job WORKING so hard on your homework. You really buckled down and focused”. Non specific praise would be, “Good job”. Do you see the difference? In the first example you are praising hard work, and in the second you haven’t specified exactly what the child did well. Specific praise allows you to be intentional and lets your child know EXACTLY what they can do more often to gain your attention and approval. Kids crave this, and it may be difficult to believe but children of all ages want to please their parents, so make sure they know from time to time just how thrilled you are that they are yours!