How to encourage open communication with your kids

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Do you have a hard time talking to your kids?

This can be a problem among newcomer parents, especially when their children start growing closer to their peers or perhaps when the kids become more used to (and better at) speaking English. For other families, childrens’ problems may take a backseat to work or money problems, culture shock, and other concerns related to settlement. And if your child is an adolescent, the natural challenges that come with this age can further complicate the situation.

Considering that newcomer children are also going through many adjustments in their new environment, building a loving and open relationship with your kids is all the more important. It is crucial to their smooth integration and to their development into well-adjusted adults. Communication is an integral part of building this relationship.

Strategies to improve communication:

Be available

Let your child know that they have an open line to you. It will help to tell them that they can talk to you anytime. This can be hard considering your busy life. Working, studying, adjusting to a new country, and attending to household chores can be hard for newcomer parents. But remember, you moved to a new country so that your children can have a good life, right? Maybe it is just a matter of shuffling your priorities.

Also, remember that being available does not only mean being physically present. It means that you will stop what you are doing and really listen. Stay attentive and interested in what your child is saying. Always assure them that you are ready to understand and provide support.

Don’t judge

Refrain from jumping to conclusions and giving advice. Let your child finish their story before you react. More often than not, the reason why kids don’t talk to their parents is that they are afraid of getting a negative reaction. They don’t want to be scolded or blamed. Some kids also don’t want their parents to be stressed out or angry as this will add to their burden. They may not show it all the time but they know and appreciate how hard their parents work. So be patient. Try and keep your tone neutral when you speak. Know what they need from you at the moment. Perhaps all they need is for you to hear them out and nothing more.

Ask questions

Before reacting, ask questions. Do it calmly and suspend judgement. This will show that you are listening and you want to know more. Try and ask open-ended questions (like why or how) to keep the conversation going. Sometimes, it is in the process of answering questions that you will discover what your child really wants to say.

Use your native language

Don’t be scared that you will be making it harder for your child to learn English if you use your native tongue at home. There have been many studies supporting bilingualism and its benefits to children. In fact, many parents and educators see that when the first language is well-established, it helps the child learn the second language better. Another great reason why you should communicate to them in your native language is that it is the language you know best. This will help you express yourself better and provide more support to your children.

Make it a ritual

Check up on them every day. It can be during breakfast time, on the car ride to school, during dinner time, or before bed time. Keep the conversation light and fun. Share your own experiences with your kids and encourage them to do the same. Showing an active interest in their activities tells them that you care. This will help them become more open.

Be consistent

Model open communication in the household with other family members. Children learn by example. If they see that they will not be ridiculed or taken lightly when they share their thoughts, it will become natural for them to open up. This is a process and may take a while. But the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Don’t let gadgets get in the way

Mobile phones, tablets, game consoles, even the TV can hamper genuine communication. Limit gadget use during family time. Ban use during dinner time. For starters, be a good example and be gadget-free when you’re at home. You can check your phone later in the evening for any urgent messages. Read 5 tips for smart digital parenting for more tips.

Take interest in their interests

One of the best ways to have a meaningful conversation with your kids is to have a common ground. Why not share their sport or hobby? Or perhaps watch a movie or a TV series that they like? This will open up so many topics to talk about with your children. It’s also a great way to spend time and bond with them.

Sources: Struggling to get your children to communicate? Tips to get kids talking, Cheryl Song, Canadian immigrant; Communication tips for parents, APA; and Why should parents talk to their children in their native language? Ana Paula G. Mumy, Multilingual Living. All retrieved July 18, 2018.

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Community Resources

Do you need help communicating to your child or any member of your family? If none of the strategies above work for you, you may need the help of a professional. Aurora Family Therapy Centre has various programs that are responsive and affordable. Some may even be free.

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