As parents, with many responsibilities and often many heavy challenges, we often forget that our children can have a lot weighing on their hearts, too. Some children easily share their feelings and thoughts. Others don’t. Whether a child readily share these things or not, we can be sure that they have them. A lot of these thoughts and feelings come from their observations and the atmosphere in their environments.
If parents are stressed due to finances, poor health of a family member, politics, or are struggling with conditions such as depression, anxiety or grief, you can bet the child is absorbing this in some way. You may think you are being stealth and keeping all of these troubles from your children, but they still pick it up. I always tell my clients that it’s like kids pick moods and emotions from the parents through osmosis – it all just goes inside right through their skin.
Children are also trying to figure out their world, to determine the best way to navigate through the murky, often confusing waters of peer, teacher, parent and sibling relationships, school work, their own emotions and feelings about themselves, failures, successes, fears, etc. The list can go on and on.
Giving your child the sense that you care about what is going on inside of them and you want to hear their concerns, ideas, emotions, and experiences is a very powerful way to give your kids the keys of self-confidence, resilience and charity.
While you might agree with this, you might be at a loss for getting your kids talking. If your children aren’t natural sharers, you might be wondering, “How do I get my child to talk to me? When I ask my child – “How was your day?” He/she says, ‘Fine’ or ‘Okay’ .” If I ask “What’s new?”, he/she says ‘Nothing’.“
Here are 5 handy tips for getting your kids talking:
1. Share an experience and a related emotion from your day. (Keep it short and sweet.) Wait.
2. Listen. When your child talks, stop what you are doing and look at your child.
3. Wait and refrain from making use of this opportunity to give your child a pearl of wisdom or to teach him/her something.
4. Paraphrase what you heard. Wait, and listen again.
5. Affirm your child.
Here’s a little explanation for each tip:
1. Share: A parent shares something about their day keeping it short and sweet, and including a feeling word. Example: “Today at work someone said something that made me really mad. I just wanted to yell at them.” Then wait and see if your child says something. If your child does say something then move on to Tip #2.
If your child remains quiet, say something like: “I wonder if you’ve ever felt this way?” or “Has anything like this ever happened to you?” or “I wonder what you would do in this situation?”
2. Listen: When you’re done with your short and sweet statement be quiet and wait. Listen. When your child talks, listen not only to the words but also for the feelings, even if the feelings aren’t explicit. Be sure your behavior communicates “I’m giving you my full attention because I believe what you are saying is important.”
3. Wait and refrain: As parents, we often feel driven to share pearls of wisdom at every opportunity. Don’t do it. Use your discernment of appropriate time/place and age of the child to share your pearls a little at a time. The most important thing to do is just listen and wait. They will talk to you less if they expect you to always talk over them or lecture them.
4. Paraphrase and wait: Tell your child what you heard him/her say. When listening we humans often get it wrong. This also tells your child “I was listening and I heard you. I care about what you are saying.” Waiting gives the child time to process what you said and to respond. This is developmentally a slower process than it is for most adults.
5. Affirm: Making a simple statement to your child identifying a positive trait or behavior (it must be real and true). Affirming helps children know themselves better. It provides the child with an experience being noticed as important by mom and dad. It builds self-confidence. It is the nutritious soil and water necessary for them to grow, bloom and thrive. It helps children become the person God created them to be. Born Only Once, by psychologist Dr. Conrad Baars, is a short book that explains the importance of affirmation for healthy development.
“I can see you’re trying hard to figure that out.”
“I love how you’re working so hard at that.”
“That’s an interesting idea.”
“You have such a pretty voice when you sing.”
“Wow, I’m impressed with your hard work in soccer today.”
Try using these tips and be patient with yourself and your child as you develop better communication.
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