According to a U.S. Department of Education study, the average American mother spends less than 30 minutes a day talking to her children. The average American father spends 15 minutes.
Americans find the time to put in a full day of work, eat lunch, dinner, read the newspaper, watch the news, watch a sitcom and do the dishes, but can find only 30 minutes at the most to talk to children.
Harry Cooper with “Guiding Good Choices,” a training program for parents, says parents must make an effort to communicate with their children as much as possible.
“The most powerful voice in a child’s life is that of his or her parent,” Cooper said. “Parents often don’t realize or value their power. Children crave that communication with their parents.”
Cooper is one of 12 facilitators of Guiding Good Choices, an Eastside Community Center program that began in Columbus in July 2012. The five-week program, funded through an Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction grant, is available for free to all Columbus adults who parent.
Parents meet once a week for five weeks to discuss the following areas of instruction:
1. Identifying risk factors for substance abuse and creating strategies to enhance the family’s protective processes.
2. Developing effective parenting skills.
3. Managing anger and family conflict.
4. Providing opportunities for positive child involvement in family activities.
“The main focus of the class is to help parents help their children make good choices,” Cooper said. “It’s about empowering parents by providing positive alternatives and helping them become comfortable talking with their children about everything, especially the hard stuff.”
Cooper said communication is the key to building a strong and healthy family. He said parents need to talk about expectations, values and aspirations.
“The clearer the pathways of communication are, the better,” Cooper said. “Parents will say to me, ‘I told them that they should know I wouldn’t want them to do that.’ But, if parents don’t clearly set expectations, children will not know the boundaries.”
To encourage and increase communication, Cooper encourages parents to schedule weekly family meetings.
“Family meetings are a good time to talk about expectations and value systems. They provide a good time to talk about what is going well with the family and opportunities for improvement,” he said. “But it’s also a good time to talk about your children’s goals and aspirations and about your vision of who they can become. It’s about building relationships.”
Cooper said most families do a great job providing external necessities like food, clothing and shelter, but often forget to focus on internal needs.
“We need to talk to our children and celebrate who they are and what their dreams are,” he said. “One of the greatest human needs is a sense of belonging. If they don’t receive it at home, they might start seeking acceptance elsewhere, and that can be dangerous.”
In Week 3 of the program, parents bring their children to the class and the entire family learns about avoiding trouble, specifically related to drugs and alcohol.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 90 percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18.
“A lot of parents say, ‘My children would never do that,’ but parents must learn how to talk to their children to ensure they make the right choices,” Cooper said. “It’s about building protective factors and rehearsing refusal skills. Our children need to practice before they are put in the situation and they need to hear their parents’ voices in the back of their heads telling them to say, ‘No.’”
Cooper said parents also need to focus on conflict resolution. He encourages parents to stop and think before talking negatively to their children.
“You need to stop and think before you say anything,” he said. “Don’t devalue your child for your short-term pleasure.”
Parents need to very clearly talk about expectations and why the child’s action was not appropriate, Cooper said.
“Involve them in solving the problem,” he said. “That’s how they learn problem-solving skills.”
A parent of four children, ages 6 to 20, Cooper said he constantly is learning how to become a better parent.
“No two children are the same, and there is no cookie-cutter way to parent,” he said. “Parents are always learning, but the most important thing you can do as a parent is to build and sustain relationships with your children.”
Cooper said he relishes the opportunity to help his children develop into strong and confident adults.
“You are taking a canvas and making it into a painting,” he said. “I feel like as a parent, I am providing opportunities for a human being to become all that they can be. It’s like building a legacy and helping them to leave the world better than they found it.”
Paige Harden is a proud lifelong resident of Columbus. A former Republic newspaper reporter, Paige now is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.