So much of life comes from learning how to communicate well with one another. Today's topic comes from an article called “Improving Family Talk,” in the July 1990 Ensign.
“You never understand! You don’t even try to see things my way,” cries a resentful teenager, storming out the door.
After a school band concert, a teenage girl sits alone in her room. She performed well, and her father was proud of her. But the only comment he made was to joke about how her music fell off the music stand. He wonders why she is so upset.
A man looks across the room at his wife, who is reading on the couch. He thinks of the love he has for her and how he appreciates her efforts to make the family’s life more comfortable and enjoyable. But he says nothing.
The silence is deafening.
What Is Communication?
Communication is a vital part of family life. But despite technological advances in communication—radio, telephones, television, and satellites—our communication with those we know best is often as difficult as it ever has been.
The Importance of Our Conversations
We often fail to recognize the powerful teaching—not preaching—potential in our conversations with our children. Wise parents have found that informal, unstructured moments can permit the giving and receiving of very vital messages. Brief conversations in the car or chatting together while working or playing together often leads to deep, intimate moments of sharing and love. Such exchanges are among everyone’s favorite childhood memories. “That’s the only reason I go fishing with my children,” says one father who doesn’t particularly like fishing but likes the time it gives him to visit with his children away from other distractions. Some families take regular walks in order to create conversation time. Others use the dinner table as a place to keep in touch with each other. One pediatrician, a father himself, believes that what families say to each other at mealtime is of greater importance than what is eaten.
Not all parents realize the value of good conversation. But children benefit greatly from participating in interesting conversations. Such conversations help them learn to express themselves clearly, listen compassionately, respect the opinions of others, develop an interest in a variety of subjects, and see different sides of complex issues.
Starting Family Conversations
Some conversations start themselves. Special occasions, such as the arrival of new babies, baptisms, mission calls, marriages, and deaths lead to conversations all by themselves. In some families, children talk to their parents for a few minutes after coming home from dates or other activities.
But what do parents do when conversations don’t start themselves? First, we need to recognize that not all times are appropriate for conversation. Trying to carry on a conversation when one person is too hungry, tired, or upset may only lead to frustration, perhaps even antagonism.
Second, we need to set an atmosphere conducive to good conversations. We establish such an atmosphere when we show respect for our children’s thoughts and feelings. If we belittle a child when he offers his opinion, he will feel he has nothing worthwhile to contribute to future conversations.
Perhaps the best way to show respect is to listen. Listening is improved when we resist the temptation to interrupt or finish statements for one who might be slow of expression. Here, parents not only set the example but also establish courteous behavior as a rule. No one person should be allowed to monopolize a conversation. We can encourage others to take part in a conversation through pointed questions, such as, “How do you feel about that, Jane?” or “What has your experience been with that, Tom?” In fact, the surest way to stimulate conversations with children is to ask a question that invites a thoughtful response. Such questions show our children that we value their opinions, increasing their self-confidence.
If we don’t already enjoy the blessings of good family conversations, our first attempts to open these lines of communication may be discouraging. We may meet timidity, interruptions, or a lack of interest. It may take time for our children to realize that we are honestly interested in what they have to say. But the rewards are worth it. Good conversations can become a means of increasing family unity and providing memories that we will treasure throughout our lives.