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Caroline Rules: Communication

How Do You Get Your Kids to Communicate?

Caroline Manzo puts the real in The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and her fans relate to the reality star's no-nonsense attitude, focus on family and, above all, abundant common sense. Check back at Glo every Monday as Caroline helps solve your most pressing dilemmas.

The Dilemma: When they're young, kids are generally pretty open and honest by nature. But when they grow older (we're talking specifically about those pesky teenage years here), many become much more buttoned-up. How can parents encourage their children to keep the lines of communication free-flowing through all stages of their lives? Are there certain tactics that work best, like asking questions in a specific way or choosing the right time to get the kids to talk? Or should parents just wait it out when they notice their kids becoming more closed off and give them some space?

Caroline's Ruling: Parenting is like guerilla warfare. You dive in headfirst with all good intentions of raising a happy, well-adjusted child. Unfortunately, there is no definitive theory or rulebook to achieve that goal. So what's the answer: How do you raise the perfect child? Guess what? There's no answer and no guarantee.

Once you make the decision to become a parent you have to accept the responsibility that comes along with it. Your priorities need to be adjusted. It's no longer just about you. The more effort you put into raising your child the better your chances are at achieving your goal.

I have to say my husband and I are pretty lucky. We've managed to raise three terrific kids. Many of you have asked how we did it, what our secret is. Very simply, we worked hard at it, and we worked together as a team. Here are some of the very basic theories that we practice:

First and foremost, we are not our children's “friends”; we're Mom and Dad. There's a chain of command that's never to be breached. We've never tolerated any form of disrespect.

If we disagree on an issue, we never let our children know it. It's important to talk it out when they're not around — they must view you as a united front.

We've always respected each of the kids as individuals. We've celebrated their strengths and worked with them to improve their weaknesses with constant encouragement and praise when it was earned.

When it comes to communicating with your kids, here's my tip: Look at their faces when they come home from school or from playing outside. Their faces tell quite a story. I would always ask them how their day was, to tell me about class, recess, lunch, whatever. Take an interest, and don't accept a shrug for an answer. And when they talk, listen. Watch their eyes, their faces. Make sure what they're saying matches the expression on their face or the look in their eyes. We always took the time to hear about what was important to our kids. You'd be amazed at what's on their minds.

When you discipline your children, explain why you're upset. Yelling will get you nowhere. When you yell, children have a tendency to shut down, so speak calmly but with authority. They need to know that you're not punishing them because you're mean. Let them see and understand what they did. If you are going to dole out a punishment, carry it through! Make them know you mean business! Most importantly, tell them you love them. They may not believe it at the moment, but it's very important that they hear it.

Another important thing: Spend time with your kids! I don't care how long it is. Give them your undivided attention. Let them know that this is exactly where you want to be at that very moment. Connect with them, talk to them, listen to what they're saying, hold their hands, laugh, hug, kiss and say, “I love you.” Five minutes of complete, undivided attention can be more effective than hours of sitting in a room together and having minimal interaction.

I could go on forever; there are so many stories and experiences we've had over the past 24 years raising our kids. I will say one thing: Our kids always knew they could come and tell us anything. They also knew that if we said something, we meant it.

Children learn what they live, so set a good example! How can you command their respect with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude? Create a home that is full of love, laughter and rules. Yes, kids need rules — they actually crave them. They need someone to look up to, to emulate, to go to with their thoughts and fears. You are the ones who will always give them truth and love — their Mommy and Daddy.

Not too long ago we were out to dinner with the kids, and my husband asked them, “What is the worst thing you could ever do to us?” The three of them said at the same time “Disappoint you.” Music to our ears! We are a very, very lucky couple for sure.

  • From marriage dilemmas to family issues, Caroline's got the answers!

    Photo by Michael T. Greco
Caroline Rules: Communication
How Do You Get Your Kids to Communicate?
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