By Matthew Toone
Each of us desire to be better parents, to improve our relationship with our spouse, to raise our kids properly, and to enjoy close and positive family relationships. And we even understand that positive, uplifting, and proper communication with our spouse and children is absolutely essential in accomplishing this goal. The question is how? While the answer to this question is difficult, different for each parent and family, and certainly has many answers – there is one answer we can all agree on. Ironically the answer is simple in theory but difficult in practice – it is that we each need to make more time for family, for our spouse, and for our children. And often, the best things we can do during that time … is to just TALK!
Let me suggest 10 ways we can make more time for our spouse, children, and family – and in the process, improve not only our marriage and family communication, but ultimately save our marriages and raise a wonderful family.
1) Monthly Child/Parent Dates: Fathers and Mothers should take each child out individually once a month. What do you do on this date … just be together, have fun, laugh and talk. Go for ice cream, go out to eat, watch a game or movie – just be together. The place does not matter, the consistency does. Thus, you are creating a relationship of not only friendship, but of trust so that your children will come to you with questions and concerns they face in the future.
2) Time is a Friend: Here is a challenge for you – the next time your get frustrated or upset with your spouse or a child, rather than reacting right then in the moment, take a few minutes to walk away from the situation and think about how you should react. Allowing a little bit of time before reacting allows you to gain composure, respond appropriately, and thus communicate effectively. Discipline, apologies, or teaching may still be necessary – but now it is done in love and control rather than frustration and anger. This is important not only for you, but to show an example to children of proper communication and ensuring they perceive you as a loving (while still disciplining) parent … for reactions in anger towards children only result in rebellion, which is coupled with ineffective communication.
3) Weekly Family Planning Time: Make it a habit to get together every week to not only plan and communicate, but to spend time as a family. Go over everyone’s calendar items, provide an opportunity for family members to talk about questions or concerns, and use this meeting as a time to teach, correct, and express love. To be effective, don’t just exchange information, but also feelings! In addition, make sure you also have fun by setting aside time to just play games, watch a movie, have some candy, and just be together.
4) Just Turn It Off: If there is one thing every parent has been guilty of, it is trying to watch a TV show, listen to a radio station or song in the car, or reading a book, newspaper, or magazine – and little Sally comes up and wants to tell you something or just play. At this decisive moment, turning off the TV, radio, or putting the book or magazine aside may seem like a small thing, but the positive ramifications of such an action will inevitably result in an effective communication environment in the home – now and later. When Sally is a teenager faced with peer pressure, questions, and important decisions – thankfully she will come to parent(s) who fostered opportunities for talking, listening, laughing, and effective communication during the early years – long before the moment of temptation and decisions of peer pressure arose.
5) Nighttime Talks: Perhaps one of the most effective ways to build trust, friendship, and a relationship with your child is simply just to ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to them as they are going to bed. Go in their room and just spend a few minutes with them. Talk. Listen. Laugh. Teach. Love. It does not have to be every night, nor does it have to be long or even serious every time. But it should be sincere – and often! And remember that listening is not simply looking at, nodding, or being silent. Effective listening requires effort, undivided attention, sincere and helpful responses, asking the right questions, and time.
6) Family Dinner: If there is one thing that I can contribute to the strong relationships, friendships, trust, and love that I personally feel for my siblings and parents – it is the fact that we had a meal together every night growing up. I realize that everyone is (and always has been) busy with varying activities and schedules … but perhaps we need to spend less time making excuses and more time MAKING TIME for what and who is most important.
7) Weekly Dates With Your Spouse: Now, I have two children, and I thus know how extremely difficult it is to do the very thing I am suggesting here. But – no excuses. I, and all of us, simply need to make time and do it. However, as part of that date, ensure you make time just to talk, listen, express affection and appreciation, and do everything you can to stay away from those media influences that seem to only promote infidelity and destroy marriages.
8) Discipline, Control, and Improve Your Natural Tendencies: It is much easier to use foul language and unkind words than it is to train our tongue. It is natural to respond selfishly and angrily when someone has intentionally – or unintentionally – wronged us. And a rude remark, an uncontrolled temper, and the desire for revenge is unfortunately promoted everywhere in the media influences that continue to portray a decline in moral values and human decency. However, regardless of how easy, natural, or popular it may be – we must learn to control our tongues, discipline our thoughts, control our temper, and not speak and act as the masses. Use kind words. Think of and treat your spouse as an equal. Discipline your children in love, only after you have allowed time to gain composure. And remember, it is not easy for any of us, and it requires daily effort.
9) Be Worthy of Trust and Maintain Confidences: This advice obviously applies to both your children, as well as your spouse. Trust them – and live and act so they can trust you. Keep promises, maintain confidences, and always be true to them. The moment trust is broken, communication falls apart.
10) Make Time for Family: When you come home from work, be home mentally and not just physically. Specifically set aside time (MAKE TIME) for family to just be together – to talk, laugh, cry, play games, have fun, and just spend time together.
Perhaps the secret to improving family and marital communication is not so much in what we say and how we say it, but simply making time for each other. As evidenced in the majority of tips listed above, effective communication is the result of MAKING TIME for those who matter most. The topic of conversation is of little importance compared to the necessity of making time – just to talk, laugh, and be together – with your spouse and children! And never forget that this isn’t about finding the time, it is about making time. As a result, not only will communication improve, but relationships will be strengthened, trust will be developed, children will feel loved, and perhaps even marriages and families will be saved!
Matthew Toone is the founder of Tips4Families.com – a website full of helpful parenting advice, fun games and activities, traditions and holiday ideas, and tips and articles for families everywhere.