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Communication between parent and child has always been important. Today, however, there is an even greater focus, especially in light of the scary school situations that occurred in the last few years. Not only do parents need to be vigilant in knowing the whereabouts of their children, they must maintain a dominant presence in their children’s lives and lead by example. And, in return, a parent who is aware of and respects their child’s feelings, will promote greater communication from the child.

How to begin?

Talk with your child.

From an early age, hold discussions with your children as much as possible. Tell them stories about when they were babies; about how one of the happiest days of your life was when they were born. Talk about family members to help them connect with their heritage. Answer their questions, even when they seem tedious. And, be sure to listen. Two-way interaction promotes confidence and security, and a secure child is one who will open up and communicate.

Discussions don’t need to be formal. In fact, it is often during informal activities that children feel comfortable enough to express themselves. Chat while setting the table for dinner, during a long car ride, or as you do an art project. One mother in particular finds bedtime an especially good time for connecting with her children. After a bedtime story her children feel relaxed and secure, and often confide in mom as they are being tucked in.

As children get older, ask about school, friends and extracurricular activities. To avoid the typical “nothing” answer when you ask your child what he did at school, be specific. Ask him who was absent today, who he played with at recess, who he sat with at lunch, or what books he read in the library. Inquire about his bus ride to and from school. Find out who his best friend is, and whether he is having any trouble learning or getting along with others.

Be a part of their lives.

Part of effective communication with your children is being aware of their whereabouts. A child who is unsupervised or who has a parent that doesn’t show an interest in her activities, is likely to shut down and internalize her feelings. That can lead to trouble. The child may look for other avenues of acceptance, which could be negative influences.

Get involved at your child’s school. Read to your child’s class on a regular basis. Join the parents’ club or be an organization’s advisor. Even volunteering to work in the school office one day a week can be valuable. Elementary school children enjoy seeing their parent in the hallways, and feel proud that their mom or dad is interested in helping out at their school.

Be an active participant in extracurricular activities. Coach a Little League team or become a Girl Scout leader. At very least, attend your child’s hockey game, track meet or dance recital to cheer them on. Small gestures go a long way in strengthening the parent-child relationship.
Lead by example.

To gain respect from children, parents must also give in. Be firm in your household rules, but also give validity to their feelings. Encourage open and honest communication by holding family meetings where everyone has an equal chance of expressing himself. Sometimes all a child needs is some “alone time” with mom or dad—away from siblings, friends and stressful situations—to reveal what is on his mind.

No matter what method is chosen, it behooves today’s parent to go the extra mile to maintain open and honest communication with their children. A recent government study revealed that children who eat dinner every night with their parents are more likely to stay out of trouble. Just think: even a simple meal and conversation can help your child. Isn’t it worth it?