The communication skills your child learns will affect the way he interacts not only with you but with the world at large. These skills will help your youngster to negotiate, solve problems, and learn from others. Communication can also be used to praise, punish, express feelings, and provide insights and understanding.
The way you communicate is part and parcel of what you communicate. Done well, communication is how you convey love, acceptance, respect, and approval to your child. Providing praise, for example, is not just saying words. It requires that you understand how your child thinks about himself and his behavior, and knowing when and in what way you can share with him your pride, so that he is best able to hear you and accept what you are trying to say. Successful communication is a two-person process, not merely one person saying something to another. If you consistently communicate well with your child, he will know that you think well of him. Not only will this nurture your relationship with him, but it can help him grow, develop, and live up to his capabilities as a person.
Unfortunately, too many parents do a poor job of expressing this acceptance. They may think: If I tell my son that in my eyes he is just fine the way he is, he won't be motivated to work harder and do better in life. But in fact, children do better once they feel relieved of the pressure of having to win their parents' approval. Rather than constantly judging and criticizing your child, let him know that you accept and love him. In turn, he will begin to like himself more, and his self-esteem will grow.
Make an effort to communicate this acceptance through both words and actions. Yes, you can demonstrate your feelings in nonverbal ways through your body language, including your facial expressions, hugs, and gestures. But you also need to say it.
Too often, parents choose ineffective, nonaccepting ways to communicate verbally with their children. They might give commands ("You're going to do it as I say or else!"), lecture ("When I was a boy, I had twice as many chores as you"), or preach ("You must never behave that way again"). Or they might criticize ("You are doing everything wrong today"), ridicule ("You looked silly when you struck out"), or belittle ("Someone your age should know better").
Be positive and accepting in the way you talk with your child. Offer praise often and be as specific as you can ("You did a wonderful job solving that difficult problem in your math homework tonight"). Let him know how much you appreciate him as he is, without his having to struggle to resemble your own preconceived notions of how you want him to be ("I was so proud just watching you run in the track meet today").
You can also demonstrate acceptance by not involving yourself in some of your child's activities. For example, if you just let him paint without giving him advice on what colors to mix together, this will convey the message that he is doing just fine on his own. In much the same way, you can listen quietly to your child at times, without interjecting your own thoughts and comments that might contradict or correct him.