Written by: Jenny Smith
Once they start to grow up, communicating with your kids can become an uphill struggle. Unless we have studied communication we generally take on the style that we were exposed to when young, from parents and other authority figures, which is why so many of us feel ourselves turning into our parents once we go over thirty five!
Communication is something that that can be developed and changed to bring about radical shifts in relationship, particularly to those close to us.¬† It’s an area that you can delve into deeply, but to start off with here are a few specific tips that will get you going.
When you have a chance to have a conversation with your child, make it a practice every so often to listen more than you talk. This very literally creates a space for them to step into with what they want to say, and is a very gentle way of giving them permission to say more. Over time this will give them the message that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying and they will feel more comfortable opening up and sharing more about their thoughts, feelings and experiences with you.
All of us are making judgemental all of the time, it’s part of what our brain does to check that we are safe. However if left unchecked this habit can really get in the way of close relating especially with your children. Being non-judgemental towards your child is a very healthy and supportive skill to develop. It doesn’t mean that you stop having internal judgements and reactions, these are normal in human interaction. By bringing awareness to your inner voice and making a conscious choice to outwardly respond in ways that are accepting and interested rather than reactive and critical.
Next time your child expresses an opinion that you have a strong reaction to, see if you can find a way to be curious about it such as¬† ‘that’s interesting, I wonder what’s given you that impression’ rather than express your judgement to them, play around with this and see how conversations open up or close down depending on responses.
It is tempting to bombard children with questions as they move out into the world and have more and more time away from parents. Classically ‘what did you have for lunch? Or ‘what did you do today?’ Research has shown that rather than engaging a child up in discussion, questioning them in this way can interrupt their connection with themselves. The key thing to be aware of is your reason for asking the question. If it is because you want to connect with your child, take a risk and share something about yourself instead rather than trying to get them to do the work!
If you are in discussion and you’d like to know more about what they are saying use gentle techniques like ‘I wonder what it was that made you….’ or ‘I imagine that may have felt exciting when you…’ and if you really want to ask questions try to ask open ones that leave a range of possible answers rather than ones that just lead to yes or no, for example rather than ‘did you enjoy it?’ ask ‘how did it go for you?’ This invites your child to say more about their experience and gives you a chance to then practice listening again!
Be gentle with yourself as you try out any new technique, you may feel a bit self-conscious at first but it will become increasingly natural overtime.