Life space parenting

Enhancing parent-child communication

August 21, 2019 19:15
4 minute read.
Life space parenting

TURN OFF the television, and put your mobile phone on silent and away from sight when you want to play or converse with your child.. (photo credit: TNS)

As a young therapist, I worked in a boy’s residential treatment center in upstate New York with troubled teens who were placed in this program in order to sort out their lives. Although each therapist had an office to meet and interview the teens, I found that taking the therapy out of the office was a better way to engage communication with teens. Quite often, I would take a walk with my client or go to the basketball court and shoot hoops. The idea of communicating with troubled youth outside of the office originated from the work of Fritz Redl, an early 20th century psychologist. Redl called this type of therapeutic meeting the “life space interview.”

Later on in my life as a parent, I used the same skills that I had learned as a life space interviewer to foster my communication with my children. I remember taking my eight-year-old son out to the basketball court. We shot and played basketball, laughed our heads off, and during a break, I found this to be the perfect opportunity to ask him how school was going and about his teachers and friends. It was like magic and I did this with my other children using other activities that they felt comfortable doing. I continue this tradition with my grandchildren.

One of the major difficulties for parents is learning how to establish effective communication with their kids. Certainly, the advent of electronic devices, cell phones, IPads, laptops have added to this problem with children often spending hours a day looking at their screens. Drawing from some of my experience using life space interviewing, I list some considerations and strategies that may help parents and other caretakers improve their communication with children.

• Whether you are parenting a toddler or a teenager, good communication is the key to building and maintaining the child’s positive self-esteem as well as fostering mutual love and respect.

• Turn off the television, and put your mobile phone on silent and away from sight when you want to play or converse with your child. Expect the same from your child and by undertaking these important gestures, you are teaching your child some basic facts about positive communication. It is called full attention without distractions.

• The best communication with children usually occurs when others are not around. As I stated above, I took my son out to play basketball because he loved the game, but it also provided private time together. Of course, any activity can work. Let the child choose an activity and go for it – i.e., reading a book at bedtime, playing a board game, chess, checkers, assembling a Lego toy, or even playing Barbie dolls. Alternatively, inviting your child to prepare a meal or desert together in the kitchen can also be an excellent private space to be alone and to communicate.

• Even if talking is not your child’s favorite thing, just spending some quiet time with him/her can help to encourage the child to open up when he/she needs to.

• When you are in that private space, use active listening, a communication tool. This means be fully attentive when you ask your child how it is going. If there is a problem shared, like “this kid has been picking on me in school” or “I did something wrong,” this gives you an opportunity to try to empathize with your child’s feelings and perhaps come up with some constructive problem-solving solutions. Be sure not to lecture your child, but ask him or her to give their view on different possible solutions. This further drives home the feeling that you are indeed really listening to their feelings.

• Children love to hear things about your own experiences that may be similar to what they are going through. Take into consideration the child’s age, maturity and capability to understand what you are telling him/her. The basic principle is that when sharing something about yourself, you are sharing not for yourself, but for them. Moreover, do so with a clear purpose of sharing for the child’s need to hear, not the adult’s need to talk.

• Make an effort to find time to talk with your children each day, even for a brief amount of time. Moreover, remember that kids need to trust you and not be afraid of your anger. Try to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind before starting to communicate with your child.
• Always reinforce positive communication by telling your child how proud you are that they opened up and shared important things with you.
Today I spent an hour of alone time with my four-year-old grandson in the park. We played soccer and he went on the swings and slides. All I had to do was to look at the smile on his face and I knew we had positive communication!

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. ;

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