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Creating a home with healthy communication is foundational: DECIMOS NO MAS

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

As children are exposed to new ideas and experiences, it can be hard to know what to say. Nobody has all of the answers, but what’s most important is to keep your conversations going.

Your children are always watching and learning from you because they respect you and look up to you. One child development expert said, “Kids hear about 1% of what we say and 100% of what we do.”

Healthy family communication permits family members to express love and admiration for one another — their needs, wants, concerns, and their differences. It includes verbal and nonverbal ways to exchange information as well as the ability to pay attention to what others are thinking and feeling.

Clear, open, honest, and frequent communication is a basic characteristic of a strong, healthy family. In fact, families that communicate in healthy ways are more capable of problem-solving and tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. Also, how and what parents and/or adult caregivers communicate about body image, peer pressure, puberty, reproduction, sexuality, love, and intimacy can make a significant difference in the well-being and health of their children. Research indicates strong family relationships can help children develop healthy self-esteem, resist peer pressure, and act responsibly when making decisions about drugs, violence, and sexual intercourse.

To prepare for a conversation with your children about a potentially difficult subject, it’s important to remember that as the adult, you must guide and model healthy communication.

Talk openly

Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Allow children of all ages to express their ideas, expectations, questions, and concerns. Be careful not to dismiss their ideas as “wrong” or “childish.” Rather, encourage dialogue by asking them to tell you more or describe how they arrived to a certain conclusion. Children, especially teens, will look to you for information, advice, and answers only if they feel you are open to their questions and thoughts. It’s up to you to create the kind of environment in which your children can ask questions about any subject freely and without fear of consequences.

Give positive feedback

Give positive feedback when you see or hear of your children making healthy and respectful choices about their own communications (including practicing good listening) and relationships with friends and family. Tell your children you are impressed when they do things that reflect your values. You can say, “I admire the way you helped your sister today, even though you were annoyed. What made you react that way? It was very mature and I like it when you’re kind to her.”

Encourage questions

Be courageous. If your children are old enough to ask a question, they are old enough to hear the correct answer and learn the correct words.

Be sure that you understand what your children are asking. Rephrase the question for clarification. For example: “I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean. Are you asking why people hold hands, or are you asking if it’s OK for you to hold someone else’s hand?” You don’t want to give a long explanation that doesn’t answer the question.

When possible, answer the question when it is asked. Take advantage of the teachable moments. For example, if your child asks you, “How are babies made?” as you are leaving for work, assure your child that you are happy to talk about that question because it is an important one, but that you will answer at a different time when both of you can have quality time with each other. “We’ll talk about this while you and I make dinner tonight, OK?” And make sure you do make time.

If your child has a developmental disability or is more a visual learner, use pictures and other visual aids as often as you can. For example, photos of family or friends can illustrate conversations about relationships and social interactions.

For more information on healthy communication, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality, visit WeSayNoMas.org. Under tools, parents will find conversation starters to help them find ways and situations to talk to their children about important topics.

DECIMOS NO MAS was recently featured in NYC’s Times Square, where for one week, an ad demonstrated a mother and her teenager texting briefly about healthy sexuality. To view the ad, click here.

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