Think about the last conversation you had with your child. Did you walk away feeling closer to him, or did it raise your blood pressure by a few points? Was your child smiling, or looking for something else to do? Or was he rolling his eyes?
For every dad, good communication is vital. Although some dads are fantastic at getting their kids to open up for those heart-to-heart talks, it’s more like a puzzle for many guys. And if we aren’t great at it, how can we equip our children to be good communicators?
Communication is a key way we show our children how to love. We need to make communication a high priority so that we can teach our kids by example and through practice. The ideas you’ll find below are targeted to dads of sons, although you’ll find that many of them can be adapted for use with daughters, too.
In a nutshell, good communication is about listening first before making our opinions known, and doing away with lectures in favor of asking questions that promote two-way discussions. Also, we have to be open to receiving feedback, even if it’s negative, and take the initiative in rebuilding relationships when fractures occur—having the courage to admit when we’re wrong and seek forgiveness. Those are all areas of communication that help demonstrate our love.
By being a good communicator, you serve as a model for your son in hopes that he will communicate with you. But let’s be honest: getting your son (especially if he’s a teenager) to talk with you can be one of the greatest challenges of your fathering career, but it is doable.
The public service announcements on television make it sound like the best approach is to just start a conversation about drugs or alcohol at the breakfast table. But most teenagers would just roll their eyes, and probably tune you out. How do you bridge the gap? The first suggestion is a paradox:
• To get your son to talk, don’t try to get him to talk. Sure, face-to-face chats are great if you can pull ‘em off. But usually, the best approach is to talk “sideways.” A boy will talk to you much more easily while you’re working on a project together or doing something fun. So enlist his help as you work on the car, shoot some hoops, hang drywall, run errands together, or join him in something he wants to do. During that activity, he may bring up something that’s been on his mind or willingly respond to a question you throw out.
• Watch for cues that he’s ready to talk. Maybe he talks more at a certain time of the day, or when he’s in a particular mood. The cues may be subtle, but you can learn to spot them.
• Be available. He may have a pressing question at eleven o’clock at night—or at three o’clock in the morning. His concerns may sound hair-brained or trivial or way off the mark. That’s okay, dad. Be flexible. Let him know that he can come to you anytime, about anything. Those times may be rare, so be ready. And put aside the cellphone or iPad, or turn off the TV when it happens.
• Affirm him verbally. Positive words give sons confidence and belonging, and provide a model of a man who can express love in healthy ways. We need to tell our sons how much they mean to us, point out their positive character traits, and say, “I love you, and I’m proud to be your dad.”
Finally, if your sons are still very young, do all you can to build a close relationship with him now. If it’s easy for him to talk to you during these younger years, there won’t be a gap to bridge, and that will do a lot to ease the strain once he becomes a teenager.
Here are more practical ideas that will help you become a better dad:
- Show interest in what your son likes and affirm his positive qualities—especially in the areas that are not like you.
- Start a new project with your son that allows the two of you to be side-by-side for long stretches of time.
- Notice something that your son does well and affirm him for it. Tell him, “I’m proud of you. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
What works for you when it comes to communicating with your kids? Please share your ideas and comments below or at our Facebook page.