Among the greatest qualities every dad should seek to build in his relationships with his children, open communication ranks right near the top.
When dads and kids can talk things through in a healthy way, and when kids feel free to approach their dads about anything, it increases the chances that they’ll be able to work together when crises and challenges come along. And that’s huge.
If that kind of give-and-take is a challenge for you or is not how you would describe your relationships with your kids, here’s one thought to keep in mind: Investigate, don’t interrogate.
What’s the difference? It’s all about your attitude, your tone of voice, your facial expressions, even your body posture.
Here’s another way to look at it:
When you’re interacting with your kids, do they see you more like an explorer or a police detective?
With interrogation, many of us probably think of a crime show on TV. No disrespect to the important work that law enforcement officers do, but typically when we think about an interrogation, the detectives are trying to coerce a confession out of a suspect, or perhaps gather more information to prove someone’s guilt.
Sometimes, probably without realizing it, we fathers create a similar atmosphere with our children. We ask a simple question and they get the feeling we’re prying for information to use against them. Or an everyday conversation gives them the feeling that we’re determined to find out what they’re up to that they shouldn’t be.
Is that an exaggeration? Maybe. What would your kids say? Do they ever feel like they’re being interrogated?
But investigating is showing genuine interest in your child—really wanting to find out more about him because he’s fascinating to you. Like an explorer.
One key to effective fathering is getting to know them better—gaining awareness about who they are, what motivates them, what frustrates them, and so on. Then we use these insights to better meet their needs and build a stronger connection.
Do you know what’s unique about each of your children? What if your son or daughter came to you and asked, “What’s special about me, Dad?” How would you answer? If that kind of question is a challenge for you, it may be time to do a little investigating.
Let’s add this caution: If you haven’t had much open dialogue with your child in the past, it probably won’t be easy the next time you try. You might have to earn back some trust through the coming weeks or even months. But as they sense you’re truly interested in getting to know them, they’ll become more open and share more. But for now, if they don’t volunteer information, don’t force it.
Keep that long-term goal in mind: opening lines of communication. It will be a real asset to your fathering in the years to come.
Dad, what works with your children when it comes to open communication? Please share your insights at our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection / Discussion
- Do your children feel free to approach you about anything?
- How would you characterize your communication with your kids right now? How do you want it to be?
- Next time you need to point out a mistake or shortcoming to your child, find a way to include a positive, encouraging message along with it.
- Make sure you have listened to your child and understood as best you can before giving advice or making a decision about an issue.
- Don’t wait for your child to ask. Tell each one something special you see in him or her.
NCF is a nonprofit organization seeking to improve the lives of children and establish a positive fathering and family legacy that will impact future generations by inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures to be actively engaged in the life of every child. You can also sign up for NCF’s Today’s Father Weekly email here.