As we all reel from the trials of 2020 and continue to prepare for what lies ahead, a common factor we all share is family. From children to partners, family is our foundation, and as we look to the future, let's take a moment to focus on improving the family dynamic.
Recently, one of the most significant changes that many of us have experienced is the increased presence of our children at home. Between school and work-life, our face-to-face time with family members was only a few hours a day but now, faced with the challenge of full-time togetherness, many find themselves at a loss with how to communicate effectively!
So, the question to ask is - Are you communicating with them?
In particular, firefighters and first responders can have a more difficult time communicating with their families. They have seen things that understandably can be difficult to discuss. But, kids are curious creatures. And they want to know!
Communicating is not just about the act of asking, "how was your day?" but asking open-ended, personal questions that focus on the child's interests and feelings.
What kind of music do you like? Who is your favorite band/singer?
What kind of movies do you like? Do you have a favorite? Why?
What is your favorite activity outside of school? Tell me more about that!
Who are your friends at school? How did you meet?
It's easy to forget about these questions and revert to something more comfortable like:
How was school?
How are your grades?
Did anything exciting happen today?
Close-ended, impersonal, surface level, or what I like to call "parent questions," will get you to know where quickly with one-word answers of "fine," "fine," and "no."
These questions and narratives are not just for the young kids but all ages and relationships. Parents of young adults who still live at home struggle to know how to communicate because the focus is on the easy ask, a.k.a. "the parent questions."
Learning how to ask open-ended questions is not where the communication train ends. Parents who desire successful communication and dialog with their children can learn how to openly and honestly answer questions asked of them! Remember above when I said that "kids are curious creatures?" There will come a day when they will want to know why you chose to serve your community as a firefighter? Is your job scary? How do you stay safe? Have you seen someone die?
Being prepared to answer questions like these (and many others) will make answering them easier. Of course, there will be questions you aren't ready to discuss and stories you don't want to tell. That is OK! Prepare an explanation as to why and talk that through with your child no matter their age. And don't forget to remind them that asking is always allowed.
"How are you?"
Congratulations! Communication using open-ended questions has led to a positive dialogue!
But wait, there's more...
It's now time to shift the focus from "are you?" communicating to focus on "how are you?" communicating.
How often are you communicating?
How are you changing conversations up to learn more?
How are you expanding them?
How are you treating them?
Chatting with your child is more than just a single scheduled talk, taking the open-ended questions out for a spin and then trying to wing it after that.
The key is consistency!
Try different places to chat to figure out what works best for that child; on the way to practice, car, bedroom, or making dinner together
Ask about new things
Have the right attitude when asking
Listen to their answers
Be prepared to follow up on the questions you asked and the questions they asked you.
Life gets busy and comes at us fast. Children don't always understand that. Being open and honest as much as possible when they come with those questions (you know the ones) will establish trust and allow them to feel more comfortable in being open and honest with you! Consistency, communication, and reliability are how we show up as parents and how we build solid foundations for our family.
Since 2020, this pandemic has affected our lives in so many ways. It has changed the course of our paths, how we live, how we socialize, how we participate in school, even how we do something as simple as going to the grocery store. It has shown us that we must take control of what we can and not let another year slip by without making the most of it. Whether your children are young or have families of their own, ask them an open-ended question, learn about them, learn about their friends, learn about their hobbies, follow up with them, keep it interesting and then...go do it again.