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Can We Talk?

6 ways to boost better communication with your child

"You just don't understand!" "It's no use talking to you about it."

If you're a mom, chances are you've heard one of these phrases from your kids. More than anything, all moms long for good communication with their kids, but the reality is, it doesn't happen unless you cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance in your home. The following six actions will help you create an environment that encourages—rather than discourages—parent-child communication.

1. Make Time for Them

True communication grows out of the relational groundwork you create when your children are young. Set aside daily time with each child. Read him a story; build a sandcastle; go for a walk and collect flowers or stones along the way.

Much fuss has been made over the quality-time versus quantity-time issue. But for our kids, it's not either/or, it's both. Little amounts of time work with little kids. But as they grow older, you can't "program" time when a teen will want to talk. You have to hang around just in case the urge strikes. And it's likely it will strike at an inconvenient time for you—late at night, or right in the midst of a project. If your teen wants to talk, turn off the TV (just pushing the mute button isn't enough). Setting aside your own agenda to listen to your child takes time—but it's well worth it!

2. Ask Good Questions

You may have one child who tells you everything, but another who's so uncommunicative, you wonder how two children in the same family can be so different. Relax! Each child is wired differently, and as your kids move into the teen years, they talk to their friends more—and you less. That's normal.

Suppose all you get from your teen when you ask, "How was your day at school?" is "Fine"—and your communication sinks to an awkward silence. Start asking questions that call for more than a one-word answer, such as, "What's one interesting thing you learned today?" "Is there someone in your class for whom we should pray?" "Which class do you like the most right now?"

Don't expect your child to respond positively. He may be more likely to roll his eyes and say, "Ah, Mom, you ask too many questions." When my son said this, I merely laughed and said, "I know, but one day you'll have a wife, and she'll want details, so I'm just training you to be a good husband!"

3. Teach Respect

At some point, most kids try to talk back to their parents and siblings. But don't permit it. When our children were young and tried talking back, we simply washed out their mouths with yucky- tasting soap. One friend uses white vinegar, another a drop of Tabasco sauce. If your children are older, use other means of discipline. Teach your children how to disagree with you and with each other without verbal abuse.

4. Walk in Their World

The carpool can be a great research tool. The kids forget you're there. You learn who can spit the farthest, who's the meanest teacher, and who likes whom.

Open your home to your teen's friends on the weekends. Have lots of food—and they will come! You may have to cancel your social life for these teen years, but it's more important that you have your teen's friends to your house. You can control what goes on in your own home; you cannot control what goes on in someone else's house.

5. Use Creativity

Proverbs 27:23 says, "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks." I take this as an encouragement to "study my children." For example, what are my daughter's gifts? Her interests? Is she a follower, a leader, sensitive, creative, artistic, quick, or thoughtful? Often I pray, "Lord, show me the unique ways you've packaged my child. Teach me creative ways to communicate with her."

Shelly's son Craig isn't as communicative as her other boys. She's found the best way to get him to talk is by playing a game, so often she'll challenge him to a Ping-Pong match. She's noticed that if he's engaged in something, he's more likely to talk, and he responds to her playful nature.

"Is there any girl you like?" Silence.

"That's okay, you don't have to tell me, but I'm dying to know. So if I win this round, will you tell me?" she says.

It usually works!

Humor can be a big help in communication. But make sure your humor isn't tinged with sarcasm.

6. Be Encouraging

It's far easier to take each other for granted than it is to appreciate each other. Write your son a note and leave it on his pillow. Simply say, "I'm so proud to be your mom. I think you're great." E-mail a stressed daughter and tell her, "I just want you to know I know you're feeling uptight right now. I love you and am praying for you."

Periodically I have to ask myself, How's the emotional atmosphere in my home? Do I need to take a few extra minutes to connect with one of my kids? Does one of them need a love note from me?

What about your home? To whom do you need to communicate acceptance today?

Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including the recently released And Then I Had Teenagers (Baker Book House).

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How do you handle the challenges of mothering? An upcoming Your Child column topic is: Encouraging your child to share his faith. What specific strategies have you used to help your child become comfortable in sharing his faith with others? Send us your tested tips and your name, address, daytime phone number, and ages of your kids. For information on how to contact Your Child, see click here.

Moms Speak Out

I have a nine-year-old son who has a great imagination. So I've tried to find adventure books that will hold his attention, and we read a chapter together every night. We discuss the plot and speculate on what will happen next. This gives us something to talk about, and keeps the communication lines open.
Laura, Ohio

When I was in my teens, my mom often asked me startling, open questions about how I was feeling and what my friends talked about. Because she did that, I knew anything I asked wouldn't shock her, so I felt comfortable talking to her about things I might not otherwise. We follow her example with our children.
Carol, Pennsylvania

When I feel I'm not communicating well with one of my three kids, I stop what I'm doing and make a date for some one-on-one time. We'll go out to eat and get away from our everyday routine and environment, with no TV, computer, or telephone to distract us. I've found taking "time out" an effective way to reconnect.
Cheryl, Florida

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