As fathers we have the incredible responsibility of leading in our homes, and one of the key responsibilities of leadership is effective communication.
One of the most effective means of communication is… words.
Gordon McDonald says, “A father initiates action in his family through words, and he motivates continuous action through words.”
Four ground rules that shape effective verbal communication:
#1 Be clear about what you want for your child to do.
It is easy for parents to “make the ask” in terms that their children do not comprehend. For instance, if I say to my three and four year old, “Clean your room,” that has a whole realm of possibilities for them, probably none of which would meet my expectation! BUT if I say, “Ladies, put all of your dolls in your toybox” that is a clear “ask” that cannot be misinterpreted.
McDonald writes, “Clarity and precision are not the hallmarks of many fathers in their verbal communication with children. Among the more common faults is that of failing to choose concepts that are clear to a child. We must ask ourselves if the thing we are directing a child to do is actually capable of being accomplished – at least in the horizon of his/her world.”
The younger the child, the more obnoxiously simple we must be with our commands.
#2 Set a time limit on the expected action.
This simple principle has made a world of difference around our kitchen table! I had actually reached a point where I no longer enjoyed family meals because the entire time was spent reminding “The Ladies” to eat their food. We made some key decisions that have significantly increased the pleasure factor at dinner time:
- give smaller portions of food (if they want more they will ask)
- set the timer for thirty minutes
- if they are not done with the meal by the time the timer goes off there is no desert and they still have to finish their food.
- There are limited exceptions
We have had to enforce the “no desert” rule only a few times. One time of watching everyone else drink a smoothie while you’re eating cold potatoes will change how you eat!
Setting the timer took the stress off of us and gave “The Ladies” an end time by which to finish the task at hand. It’s also a big deal to “The Ladies” when they finish before the timer! We all celebrate the empty plate! It sets them up for a win every night AND some great desert!
#3 Express certainty of command.
In many homes, the louder the voice, the more serious the parent. In other words, when the parent starts yelling the kids know it’s time to act. That’s not good.
McDonald writes, “Effective fathers practice certain sounds; they mean what they say. Delayed obedience is considered disobedience. This means the effective father doesn’t count to ten; he doesn’t raise his voice; he doesn’t repeat that which he is sure was heard the first time. The request is made once in clarity and certainty. No one has any doubt as to what the response should be… the first time.”
Expressing certainty in your command simply let’s your children know that you mean what you say when you say it, and that volume has nothing to do with your level of seriousness or expectation. In other words, “Do what I say, when I say it.”
This principle has more flexibility as the child matures in age and comprehension.
#4 Follow up to assure follow through.
You are only as serious as you are willing to check on results. If you ask your child to make his bed but don’t check to see if the job has been completed, you won’t be taken seriously the next time you tell him to carry out a task.
McDonald says, “The man who asks his children to play quietly, eat in a more orderly way, or wash their hands, or prepare for bed but overlooks the results when his words are ignored, is really a dishonest father. His statements are really indications of ‘wish’ rather than ‘want’ for the family’s good. It doesn’t take a child long to see that his father doesn’t mean what he says; he doesn’t bother to check up on the results of what he’s asked the children.”
Bottom line… inspect what you expect!