As a teenager and into my early college years, I was worked as a summer day camp counselor for kids of various ages. For the older kids, (pre-teen and teenagers) most of my day consisted of keeping the disaffected youth engaged by convincing them that their parents did not send them to day camp because they “wanted some alone time” AND keeping the raging storm of hormones at bay by dispelling rumors of who liked who or who broke up with who – needlesstosay, every day was a challenge but also rewarding.
To keep these sonic youths from zoning out for too long, I would organize games that were not only entertaining but also challenged them to think and instilled some sort of “life lesson” as well. One of my favorites was a game commonly referred to as, “Telephone”. For those who are unfamiliar, the object of this game was for the a single phrase, which originates from one of the players, to be passed to each player in the form of a whisper. The phrase would finally be whispered back to the originator in order to conclude the game. Players can either be in a line or any other pattern they choose to ensure that everyone participating had whispered and had been whispered to. What is realized by the end of the game, at least in my experience, was that the ending phrase is nowhere close to original one! We had some pretty interesting examples – the originating phrase might start off as a nursery rhyme but almost always end up consisting of either some boy or girl that was admired in the group…anyway. The game is supposed to illustrate how communication even in its simplest form – repetition – can be distorted or misunderstood. Once this kids got over the shock of just how far off they were from the original phrase, I would use that time to discuss how communication between their parents and friends can be made better by learning how to listen and communicate.
Flash-forward to adulthood and we realize that a lot of us should have gone to summer day camp because we apparently are still lacking in our ability to communicate with one another. Whether it’s men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or a situation at work where you clearly communicated and your boss didn’t but you still “have to work on your communication skills”, or any other miscommunication-type scenarios, knowing how to communicate with one another is essential for everyday life. As adults, most of us understand and recognize the value of effective communication. We may also understand the need for continuous improvement- so much so that the art of communication has become a billion dollar industry in this country. But, just as values and beliefs are instilled at an early age, so should certain life skills – and knowing how to communicate has to be one of them.
How to communicate effectively with others, in my humble opinion, should certainly be on the list of life skills to impart to our children. Men should be particularly apt for this challenge. It’s not that Women cannot communicate or do not communicate effectively, but the reality is, our children spend a majority of their formative years communicating predominantly with women. Whether it’s at birth where a preponderance of the infants time is spent with their mothers, or daycare/preschool/grammar school where their caretakers and teachers are more likely to be women, all the way to summer day camp where I was one of only three male counselors out of a staff of about 20. As they grow older however, they will encounter a country that is decidedly more “male dominated” in the way they communicate. Although I hope things change for the better by the time our children reach adulthood, men, specifically dads, should lay that foundation of communication for our children by which women, specifically moms, can build upon and refine.
Now, I did say Dads should be equipped to handle this challenge. I fully recognize that we men don’t have the best reputation in the communication department. We are either accused of aggressively communicating or not communicating at all. But all that being said, I would submit to you that it isn’t as if we cannot communicate, it’s just a matter of how we communicate – and a lot of that has to do with the foundation, or the lack thereof, that was established for us as we were younger. But I digress, for us to rise to the challenge of solidifying the foundation of communication for our children, I want to call out three segments of the foundation that I feel are essential and need to be instilled.
First, we need to remember that our children have a voice. Children have opinions, inquiries and points of view that are all uniquely their own, albeit immature or unformulated. Their ability to express themselves, even in its most basic forms, is a form of communication nonetheless and should be encouraged. Do not get me wrong, like all things, moderation is the name of the game. I do not want to see you in Target with your kid screaming their heads off and you look at me and say, “What, they are just expressing themselves.” What I am talking about is more of a frame of mind that we must be in when we think about communication and our children.
Second, we have all heard that idiom “Communication is a two way street”. Most people interpret this to mean that effective communication occurs when both people are communicating. My interpretation is slightly different. Although I believe communication does occupy one side of the proverbial street, I believe the other side should be consumed with listening. The way I see it, being able to truly listen (none of this Active listening nonsense) is a vital part of communication and is certainly a worthy skill for our children to master, albeit a difficult one. I am keenly aware that when it comes to listening, there is very little difference between how a toddler listens and how a teenager listens. But, this is about laying a foundation and the best way I feel this can be achieved is by setting the example of what it means to be a good listener. Guys, this does mean listening to how the day went or what someone was wearing or any of the other stereotypical conversations men tend to avoid. And, this also means listening to your child tell the same story over and over again or, how Louis C.K. put it, “Yes honey(talking to his daughter), some dogs are brown, that is very interesting.”
Lastly, for any of this to have any effect, there has be a certain level of respect between those who are communicating. This does not mean we have to accept or even like what is being said but, respect for one’s opinions and how they choose to express them must be shown. And we have to also accept that the respect may not be mutual. Similar to listening, it’s up to us to create the foundation by setting the example of what it means to be respectful. Admittedly, respect can be shown in many different ways – whether its maintaining eye contact, using the person’s name or title or simply uttering the words, “I respect what you are saying” – no matter how respect is shown, your children will follow the example you have prepared for them.
Although these three are a small microcosm of a much more exhaustive list, I feel these are a good starting point in raising effective communicators. What would you add to this list?