Q: Communication has become an issue with our family. It seems that none of us spend time talking anymore. I don't know how this happened, but I'm concerned about how it's affecting our relationships. What can I do to change the situation?
Jim: You're wise to work toward reversing this trend. Regular and open conversation is essential to healthy family relationships. Deep down we all want to know and be known, and talking is absolutely crucial to this process.
Family conversation is especially important because it promotes and bolsters a sense of family identity. When kids possess a healthy sense of belonging they're less apt to experiment with risky behaviors and far more likely to develop strong character.
So where to begin? I'd suggest that the dinner table is a good place to start. You can encourage reluctant children by giving them your undivided attention, practicing active listening and initiating conversation. Use emotion-based rather than fact-based language. In other words, try to get at the feelings family members are experiencing rather than focusing on the things you've been doing. It also helps to have something to talk about -- common interests, mutual accomplishments, collective memories, meaningful stories, perhaps even a shared family hobby like biking, hiking or camping.
Avoid "yes" or "no" questions as much as possible. Instead, try to come up with personal, open-ended questions. For instance:
1) What has been the best and worst part of your week so far? What made it so good or bad?
2) What's the most exciting thing you've heard recently?
3) If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be and why?
For additional ideas on deepening family relationships, visit us on the web at www.FocusOnTheFamily.com or call us at (800) A-FAMILY.
Q: How can we stop our 4-year-old from stealing? I have a feeling he's just being irresponsible -- that he puts things in his pocket and forgets about them. We've talked to him about why this behavior is wrong, but he keeps doing it.
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: It's important to tell your son that stealing is wrong. But it's also crucial to remember that 4-year-olds tend to respond more to actions than words. If you don't back up your reproofs with consequences, children are unlikely to change their behavior.
In your son's case, he needs to know what it feels like when someone takes something from him that he values. Let him know that the next time he takes an item you will be taking something away from him. If it happens again, go into his room while he's occupied elsewhere and remove one of his favorite toys. When he discovers it's missing, tell him you took it and that he won't get it back for a day. Each time the behavior recurs, extend the penalty by an additional day.
In addition, when you discover your son has taken something that doesn't belong to him, have him quickly return it and apologize to the person he took it from. That will cement the lesson in his mind in an immediate and practical way. If the behavior occurs in a classroom setting, you might work with the teacher to set up a restitution plan. For example, your son might have to miss out on a fun activity or stay after class in order to help clean up the room. If you're correct in thinking that your son doesn't actually mean to steal, this plan should correct his behavior rather quickly.
But if the problem persists, his actions may be a manifestation of deeper issues. Our licensed counselors would be pleased to discuss your concerns with you further. Please call them at (800) A-FAMILY.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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