by Fr. Gregory Wingenbach
"You never ever understand me!" and "There's no use trying to talk with you!" are the most familiar expressions heard by parents. Usually, there is some truth to it because parents are adults of one generation and the children of another, and because our fast-paced society simply doesn't foster parent/child communication.
When there's no communication or attention at home, some children will take up with the "wrong crowd", act up at school, wind up experimenting with drugs, or run away from home. Parents, in turn, ask: "Why didn't they come to us about it?"
We have to ask ourselves, as parents, "Do we create the climate for communication in our home?" From the "College of Hard Knocks" experience, here are ten basic tips:
Don't be too busy to listen to what your child has to say. What may be minor or inconsequential to you could be vitally important right now to your child. When your boy or girl is enthusiastic about something, share it, talk about it. Build up, don't undermine his or her enthusiasm, creativity and curiosity. Show you're interested. Also let them know that interest and discussion is a "two-way" street.
If a child finds out that what he or she says, or does, or likes is going to be "put down," soon he'll not communicate at all. After all, who wants to feel inferior every time he says something? A young person wants to be accepted, not rejected.
Try your best not to make promises you doubt you can really keep. Want to lose your child's (or anyone's) respect fast? Say you'll do something, and then for your own convenience or less-than-important reason, fail to come through after the other person has built up his or her hopes. This is a really serious "let-down" and the other person, child or adult, begins to lose faith in you. It's extremely important that your child respect you and see you as trustworthy.
Allow your child to disagree with you on a subject. Don't be afraid or ashamed to admit that you don't have all the answers to everything. As children enter their teen years, they begin to explore other value systems; they question "pat" answers and they usually try testing them first on their parents. No matter how distasteful it may stem to you, let them express the way they feel. Emphasize mutual respect, tone of voice, and they'll feel they can come back to you "in a crunch".
Seldom are youthful peers - or their ways - totally acceptable to the parents or other adults. Again, youth are searching, exploring, learning. Requiring certain "basic," standards, yet accepting their differences with adult culture, will usually assure that your child will, a) have some genuine and normal peer associations and yet, b) listen to you when you're really forced to object to aberrant behavior and activities on the part of your children and/or their associates.
Your child expects standards and guidance, both positively and negatively. He needs to know "the limits" that society realistically will set for him. But choose carefully the times when "No" is the answer; bend and balance "the rule" to meet your child's legitimate human needs and expectations. Show children that adults can be human, consistent, understanding, and reasonable in the "Yes" and the "No" of everyday life.
Regularly compliment, praise, hug, show affection for both your children and your spouse. This will reinforce both your child's sense of belonging and self esteem, and your [position as] "role model." A good self-image, knowing that he or she is "someone of value," allows the child to feel good about himself and stand on his own two feet. When the child feels that way, he or she can - on their own - say "No," when necessary, to peer pressure.
The surest way to stifle parent-child communication and the learning of solid life-values is to preach at, nag or constantly moralize over our child's behavior. Don't hesitate - at appropriate times - to share religious, moral, and ethical values. But it isn't necessary - or helpful - to pontificate every time they do something you disapprove of.
Family activities, sharing in the child's interests and play are very important Always being preoccupied or too busy "formalizes" the parent-child relationship and makes family life "no fun at all."
Have a "family altar" in the home. Ask God's blessing at meal-time, work, studies and activities. Encourage your children; show the way, as parents, in praying. Receive the Lord's sacraments together frequently.
Fr. Gregory Wingenbach is the former Director of Church and Family
Life for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Re-printed with permission from
The Resource Handbook, (1987, Vol. I, No. 2), published by the Department
of Lay Ministry of the Orthodox Church in America.
© 1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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