Written by: Jenny Smith
Good communication is key in any relationship and this is particularly true when communicating with your children and family. There are times when it can feel harder to talk about what is going on because of other stress factors or because of the times during your children’s lives when they start to naturally want to move away from communicating so much with you and instead invest in their peer relationships.
Whatever is going on and whatever stage of parenting you are at it is really important to keep putting in time and energy into maintaining healthy and open communication channels.
General tips for talking with your children include being aware of the balance of talking and listening. It’s really important to listen without judgement to what your child says, even if they say something that you don’t agree with or that you feel reactive to. Whilst they are ‘your’ child they have their own opinions and experiences, and in order for them to grow into a confident and unique human being it’s essential that their perspective is valued and accepted. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they say, its more a case of acknowledging their point of view and expressing curiosity about what has made them feel or think a certain way if it’s very different to your perspective.
Another useful tip is to avoid bombarding children with questions as they can limit rather than expand communication. Instead you could share something about your day or how you are as a way of modelling being open and communicative. Alternatively you could let your child know that you were thinking about them that day which again demonstrates an openness rather than going for the more one sided question and answer style.
It’s worth bearing a few things in mind when approaching raising something difficult with your kids. On a practical level it’s important to consider timing and place. There are certain times and situations that children are likely to be far more receptive and responsive in compared to others and it will pay off t consciously choose one of these moments to raise something that you are concerned about or to invite your child to talk about how they are. Common good times include during an activity that you are doing together like cooking, painting, or gardening; whilst on a drive together or sometime before bed as long as there is enough down time afterwards for them to settle mentally and emotionally.
Small but often
When you are wanting to raise something that feels difficult it’s also important to remind yourself that you don’t have to say it all in one go, sometimes conversations are much more effective spread into several blocks. If you are talking about something that your child is worried about, it can be very helpful to ‘normalise’ their experience without minimising how it is impacting on them, for example letting them know that it’s common to worry about exams or friends etc and that you are glad they are letting you know whats going on.
Think outside the box
Communication doesn’t just have to be verbal, a massage or hug can communicate loads and sometimes is much more effective than words. If you are unsure what you want to say to your child it’s important that you respect that and maybe talk through with a friend first or give yourself¬† time for things to become clearer. During potentially very testing times when communication can break down such as the teen years writing a card or note at times is a great option to let your child know that you are still there for them even if you are not talking in the ways that you were before.
Remind yourself that it’s normal for communication to feel challenging at times and everything that you are feeling is being felt by many other parents too.