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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Communication Within the Family

In a family, all members need to help each other to communicate well.  The lack of this skill causes a great deal of unnecessary heartache not only between parents and children but between husbands and wives.

The late Erma Bombeck once said that the only thing she  and her  son talked about was her objection to his long hair style. One day he came home with his hair cut and they found they had nothing more to say to each other. She humorously  added: “Thank God, he started to grow a beard.”  Do not let this happen in your family.

You will know there is a problem if the interchange between you and your children is always negative and accusatory and  the only topics discussed revolve around homework, school grades and clean bedrooms. You and your spouse have a problem if your only topic of conversation is disagreement over money. If you  sense there is a lack of communication in your family, the first thing to  do  is to make time to develop and to  practice this skill. The best time is mealtime.

When talking to children, it is best not to ask too many questions. Children sometimes resent them and view them as a demand on the part of the adult for a response.  Statements work better because they are an invitation to respond. Instead  of saying, “How  are  you  feeling?” say “I have  the  feeling that something is bothering you.” Or, “You  seem  pleased about something.” Statements like these give children the choice whether to respond or not and most children accept the invitation.

In  a family restaurant one Sunday morning, a young father sat down at the table next to me with his ten or eleven year old daughter. The father seemed excited about spending this private time with her. They ordered her favorite meal and  the  father then began to talk about the trip they would be taking to California. He said she would see the ocean for the first time and giant  redwood trees. There was little response from  the girl. Although she seemed interested, she apparently did  not know how to communicate this interest to her father.

After several minutes all conversation stopped. Luckily their breakfast arrived and they busied themselves with eating it. When they finished, there was more silence and they finally left.  The whole scenario took about half an hour.

This happens in many families.  I think fathers have an easier time with sons because they can talk about sports.  Sports talk fills up time and does not require much deep  communication. I believe that is why most men get involved with  spectator sports. It fills up the void. It should not be like this.

Adults should be able to communicate better with each other  and to model this skill for their children.

One thing  parents can always do and all children seem to enjoy  is to reminisce about the time they were  children. This father could have talked about the time he went out to eat with his father and what they talked about.  He could talk about  how much he enjoyed just being with his father even though he did not always know what to say.  Or, he could talk about something that happened at work he enjoyed.  The father could also have told his daughter about a book he just read.  In this case, it could have been a story about something that happened long ago in California.  In this way, the father would have served as a  role model  for his daughter.  With continued similar encounters, she eventually would learn how to communicate with him and with encouragement from him begin to practice the skill herself.

Knowing how to communicate is just as important as knowing how  to read and to write and its development cannot be left to chance.   Make time now for you and your family to learn and  to practice this skill.  It is the parent’s responsibility as well as the school’s.

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