My husband, Keith, and I doubled our kid count and birthed a business in the space of a couple years. No pregnancy necessary.
We are a blended family, with four kids, ages 10 to 15, run a communications consulting business that’s maturing out of toddlerhood and are parents to a Saint Bernard. Phew, it’s a lot and it took many dinner table conversations about how to avoid miscommunication to get us to communicate better. The blame game solves nothing. Neither do long-winded conversations. We needed to be clear and establish simple rules.
The following five tips are a mix of what my husband and I teach in boardrooms and learned the hard way in our dining room. We also asked our kids for their two cents.
Be Direct & Avoid Clutter: We all know people who pepper conversations with word clutter. Telling our kids, “We just need to ask if you can, um, possibly remember to think to close the door when you leave,” looks absurd on paper, but it’s close to the style we’ve seen play out. The word “just” and other padding downplay the request and cause people to tune out. This version sets clear expectations: “When you open the front door, it’s critical you close it before opening the storm door.” (Yes, we don’t want the dog to get out.)
Allow Fences: When our kids don’t want to answer a question, we don’t always force it. As long as their safety isn’t at stake, the kids can choose to use a “safe word” to end the conversation. If we ask the classic, “Do you like her as a friend?” our teenage son will likely say his safe word, “fence.” As tempting as it is to keep pressing, a fence is better than him creating a wall.
Stuff your Savings Account: Offering the freedom to build a fence curbs our teen from getting defensive. He has started to share more. We know there will be times when we need to cash in on that trust reserve.
Look in the Mirror: Be aware of your body language. It is at least 70% of communication. It took our daughter at a young age cupping my chin and moving my face typewriter carriage return style away from the computer screen to make me realize my crime.
When your child admits a mistake or answers a tough question, communicate you are receptive. Avoid defensively crossing your arms across your chest, maintain eye contact and use open hand gestures.
Move On: Rehashing arguments brings a rerun of the roller coaster of emotions. Don’t avoid tough conversations either. The dinner table debates teach negotiation and how to engage in discussion without shutting down.
Talking to Your Kids, With the Help of Our Kids
Eric, 15: “Parents should come up with compromises with their kids. Parents should not start by yelling…staying calm and not yelling makes for good communication. Parents should let kids tell their side of the story first.”
Seth, 12: “Allow kids to voice their opinion…not all knowledge is concentrated in adult minds.”
And, “be honest. Don’t try to hide things. (Cough) Halloween candy.”
Jordin, 10: “Don’t underestimate your kids. Some kids are a lot smarter or will know how to do more stuff than you think.”
Also, “if you have a teenaged son and he won’t talk about a girlfriend, you shouldn’t force them.” (Not that she’s referring to anyone in particular.)
Samara, 10: “We used to not talk as much as a family. Now, we talk things out right away—maybe five minutes later—we don’t wait five days.”
And, “a lot of parents are not that open with their kids about life problems, and the kids don’t know how to relate to their problems. Parents need to talk to their kids about more personal things, like when you told me you didn’t talk to a lot of people in school [and wish you had] so I didn’t make that mistake.” (Yes, mom was shy.)
Rebecca Klein Scott and husband, Keith Scott, are the co-founders of TALLsmall Productions (TALLsmallproductions.org). They lead communications workshops and private sessions. They find that many communication breakdowns, whether at home or work, share a similar need for fewer words and more clarity. And yes, TALLsmall is a nod to their heights. Keith is 6’9’’ and Rebecca is 5’2’’.