Communication is key to healthy family relationships

mom and daughter walking

Let’s face it – it’s a tough world out there. And kids are exposed to it at a younger and younger age. This came as a bit of a reality check for Elicia Newcom Gregory when her oldest daughter, Molly, age 9, started asking some tough questions.

“I knew it was inevitable, but I was surprised to learn that children Molly’s age seemed to already be worried by their appearances,” Elicia said. “Even with her going to a small school and living in a home with limited television, Molly’s self esteem seemed at risk of being challenged at a much younger age than I expected.”

Unsure how best to address her daughter’s concerns, Elicia signed up the two for a “Let’s Talk” seminar just for moms and daughters called “I ♥ Me” at Marshall Women’s Health & Education Center. “Let’s Talk” is a series of classes designed to open up the lines of communication between parents and children when it comes to difficult conversations.

Communication is the foundation for human relationships. But the kind of communication we’re bombarded with in this day and age — texts, social media, email, 24-hour news and information overload — isn’t the kind that builds strong family bonds. That takes good old-fashioned listening, respect and quality time together.

According to a report commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, the top wish among girls is for their parents to do a better job of communicating with them, such as by having more frequent and open conversations about what is going on in their lives.

“We sometimes take for granted that we know what’s going on in our kids’ lives, or we pretend to listen while we’re preoccupied with something else,” said Missy Ulfe, R.N. “An important part of communicating is not talking, but listening attentively. By listening, you encourage your family members to talk about what’s important to them.”

Parents often fall into the trap of communicating by way of giving orders or lecturing. Instead, balance that out with giving compliments, saying something positive, sharing a funny story or even telling your kids about your day.

Elicia did a good job of listening to her daughter’s even subtle comments and acting on them. While Molly wasn’t exactly thrilled about going to the “Let’s Talk” seminar, it turned out both she and her mother gleaned some important messages and were able to talk openly about them afterward. “When it comes to giving compliments I learned to focus on skills and talents, rather than physical appearance,” Elicia said. “Looks will change, and then what does that do to the intent of the compliment? That’s something I am being more careful with.”

And while teens tend to begin pulling away from their parents, the parents still play a pivotal role in their kids’ lives. The Dove self-esteem research found that nearly all girls surveyed wish their parents understood them better, listened more and spent more time with them.

“Remember, it’s normal for adolescents to value their privacy,” Ulfe said. “Respect the fact that your adolescent is gaining independence and don’t take it personally. You are still the most influential person in their lives, whether they acknowledge it or not.”

Let’s talk!

Open the lines of communication in your family

Make plans to attend an upcoming session of “Let’s Talk.” Some topics are for mothers and daughters, some for fathers and sons, some for parents only. All are aimed at improving the health of family relationships through candid, yet comfortable — and even fun — discussions led by pediatricians, behavioral experts and regular folks just like you.

They include question-and-answer time that can be done discretely via text messaging, and they help adolescents realize they are not alone in their fears and worries. Topics include self-esteem, changing bodies, discipline and other issues faced by families of growing kids. The next classes are:

Parent Talk: Anxiety and Depression in Children
Is your child nervous about going to school? Afraid of the dark? Does your child seem sad? Come to a free class to learn when these typical fears and feelings may be something more and when you should seek help.
Tuesday, Aug. 5 • 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Marshall Women’s Health & Education Center
Norton Medical Plaza 3 – St. Matthews, Suite 108
Register Now

Girl Talk: Healthy Bones
This program addresses healthy bones for teen girls and is ideal for moms and their daughters. Dr. Kittie George an orthopedic surgeon will discuss the importance of "filling up your calcium tank" to maintain healthy bones and prevent fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
Thursday, September 25 • 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Marshall Women’s Health & Education Center
Norton Medical Plaza 3 – St. Matthews, Suite 108
Register Now