Taking risks is a normal part of growing up, and worrying about the risks our children take is a normal part of parenting. The parts of the brain that govern impulse control do not fully develop until a person is almost 25 years old. So parents need to spend some time and energy evaluating where in the developmental stage the child is and communicating with the young person. The holidays are a good time for this assessment. Younger children are on winter vacation and older kids are home from college. The trick for a parent is to communicate in a natural way. The Centre for Suicide Prevention lays out four things that a parent needs in order to effectively have meaningful and important conversations. Holiday activities are a perfect way to set the stage.
Make Time And Make Dinner
The first thing that the Centre recommends is time. You cannot rush an important conversation. Bonding cannot be put on a schedule. Ask an adolescent how he is and you will get a one word answer. Yet given time to talk, a young adult will gush with insights and worries. So give your child some time to talk.
Go to a cooking website and look at the Christmas Appetizer Recipes. Find something you can make together that will take time but not be too complicated. Make it something that allows for creativity and gives you plenty of time to decorate and talk. Also remember that conversations have a life of their own. This is not the time to pontificate, run an agenda, or spout wisdom. This is the time to enjoy your child.
Make Space Together
A study by the National Institute of Health looked at parental preparedness for communication with at-risk youth. What the study found was that the critical goal of communication from a parent’s point of view was to equip the child with the tools to assess and avoid unsafe situations. When discussing safety, both of the communicators need to feel safe. This is one of the reasons that the Centre recommends making space to have difficult conversations.
It may seem like the simplest of suggestions, but go take a walk. When a young adult knows that he will not be trapped, he will be more likely to open up. This suggestion uses an at-risk model. If a child is in crisis then home and school are not considered safe spaces. Find a nice, quiet place to take a stroll and let the communication unfold naturally.
Practice Patience At God’s House
Being involved in a faith community has positive effects on at-risk households. The holidays are steeped in religious significance for most people. Messages of hope, patience and acceptance are typical at this time of the year. Take the time to go to church, temple or whatever community your religion holds. Take the messages of the day and bring them home to discuss.
The Centre’s recommendation about patience is to clear your mind and maintain a positive outlook. This is often the message of religious leaders. Most religions focus on communication with a higher power. They tell us to open our hearts and let the message in. The same rules apply when communicating with our children. Be patience and let the message in.
When Playing Video Games Is Good
One of the nice things about the holiday time is that there is often down time. Parents have days off and the kids at home. Use some of this time by playing a video game with your child. One of the issues with parent-child communication is that it can often be one directional. Parents get into the habit of talking and children get into the habit of listening, or pretending to listen in some cases. Playing video games flips the script. This is a place where the child usually has the knowledge. It begins a process where your kid gets to instruct and you get to listen.
The Centre points out that it takes skill to effectively communicate. With unnatural communication, the tone of voice will not match the body language. When this happens, it becomes obvious that the communicator is not being honest with their emotions and communication breaks down. The natural state of frustration that comes with video games can set a tone of honest emotions. Take note of how you interact when playing the game and use this to develop your communication skills.
Contributor: Cindy Reed