Bridging the Communication Gap : Converting Challenge into Opportunity

Struggles between dads and their sons go back ages, crossing continents and cultural boundaries.

Countless films have been shot and stories written examining the struggles between spirited sons and their well intentioned fathers.

“In the minds of some fathers, a son holds such promise, offering them an opportunity to relive an “improved” version of their own childhood,”  says Dr. Steven Richfield, a child psychologist and author of The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today’s Society.

“Conversely, in the mind of some sons,” wrote Dr. Richfield in How To Improve Father-Son Relationships, an article published in Healthy Place, “being fathered means carrying the weight of responsibility to satisfy a father’s dreams.”

This can ignite a blend of unspoken expectations and underlying pressure, especially as a budding adolescent is striving for independence.

How can the challenge of bridging the communication gap and quelling anger in a father son relationship lead to an opportunity for a positive and nurturing relationship?

Kids and Parent Bonding

A father who invests time with his son cultivating interests such as music, literature, sports and appreciation for nature, art and philosophy will naturally become a role model and inspire his son’s pursuit of individuality and desire for self actualization.

A strong father son relationship begins with a father’s willingness to engage his son in open communication and a son’s willingness to participation in the process. While there are many ways for a parent to start a conversation with their child, sustaining a meaningful dialogue and resolving challenging issues requires the proper tools to get the job done.

This bond building process focuses on addressing three essential questions:

Do you see me?  A good place for a father to begin is by acknowledging and praising a son’s recent accomplishments to validate his efforts and create a safe space to open meaningful dialogue.

Can You Hear Me?   The way to sustain a meaningful dialogue is by listening without judgement to develop a conversation for the purpose of identifying and clarifying the challenging issues.

What Can You Teach Me?  Building a child’s sense of security and trust that will grow over time is contingent upon a father providing constructive feedback that will help them gain a fresh perspective upon which both parent and child can act to reach a solution.

Will this process sometimes become frustrating? You can count on it. Will there be some hurt feelings while striving towards identifying and clarifying the challenging issues? More than likely.

Inevitably, difference of opinions will occur between every dad and his maturing son. But it’s the way in which a parent engages their child that will determine if bond-building occurs.

The tone of voice and words a father chooses is as important as his intended message. By being mindful of remaining calm and offering suggestions with examples of possible outcomes rather than giving authoritative opinions, a father will steer clear of bruising his son’s delicate ego.

Although this approach will initiate a healthy bond from a father while fostering wellness and sustainable success for his son, there will naturally be challenging times with disagreements and disappointment that will lead to conflict and require better communication.

One effective approach for a parent to calmly express their opinions and provide insight is by letter writing. By choosing words carefully while in a relaxed setting, a father can be sure to say everything necessary without interruption or intense emotion which can ultimately bridge any communication gap.

The letter I wrote my son at age eleven in Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey is one of many that demonstrates the value of this bond building process.

Below is an excerpt:

Hearing you tell me “I love you” means a lot to me. I’m glad that you feel comfortable expressing your feelings to me and appreciate that you care enough about my feelings to say those kind words so often. I hope that will continue forever.

Although I feel our relationship is mainly about respect, trust, and generosity there are times when I feel you overlook the effort your parents make to provide you with the opportunities to have fun, express yourself and learn about life. Overlooking those efforts is another way of saying that you are taking us for granted. And being taken for granted makes me feel sad, angry, and concerned.

I feel sadness because children that continually take their parents for granted usually grow into adults that believe they are entitled to special treatment by people in the world around them. My 43 years of experience in the world has shown me that those who first show appreciation for the things they have received will continue getting good treatment and become successful.

Please take some time to think about the many things you have received from your parents.

While it is true that providing you with opportunities is our responsibility as parents, it is your responsibility as a maturing human being to show your appreciation by making an effort of your own. You can do this by showing a willingness to cooperate when we ask you to do things and by doing things to show your appreciation even before asked. How much kindness do you expect to receive when you refuse to cooperate? And for how long? A healthy family is when there is giving and receiving by everyone.

“Through the letters and stories,” wrote Alfred Guart, Pulitzer Prize nominated investigative reporter, New York Post, in the foreword of the book, “we see how a man struggles to be a better, more accessible father than the one he know. We see a boy mature and become a young, responsible man of insight and compassion.”

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