As I was finishing up the blog post yesterday regarding Middle School Drama, I realized I should have maybe given some strategies on how to build openness and trust with your children. I have a few friends whose kids don’t speak to them about anything. They just don’t know how to.
I think what helped me knowing how to speak to my kids was that I didn’t have that growing up. It was something I desperately wanted and needed.
First, there was a lack of communication in my household. My parents didn’t speak English well, my dad is not someone you go to for emotional support and my mom was too busy with being the perfect housewife. Secondly, if we bought up any feelings we (my brother and I) were made fun of or it was sweeped under the rug because we can’t dwell on those emotions. I’m getting to “Strategies to Encourage Openness and Trust” tips, just one more minute!
I knew when I had my kids I wanted to have open dialogue between us. I’m like a little girl when they want to talk to me about a crush, school, what they read, gossip, anything! “WAIT! Let me get comfy.” Sometimes I get so enthralled in the details my daughter the other night said, “Next time, I’m not going to tell you anything because you ask 37 million questions.” I need to learn to ask 35 million only then.
There’s my tangent, again.
Strategies to Encourage Openness and Trust:
- Create a Comfortable Environment: Ensure your child feels comfortable and secure. Choose a quiet, private space where they won’t feel rushed or judged. Walking through a market probably isn’t your best bet.
- Be an Active Listener: Practice active listening by giving your full attention. Maintain eye contact, nod, and respond appropriately to show you’re engaged in the conversation.
- Ask Open-ended Questions: Instead of yes/no questions, ask open-ended ones. This encourages your child to share more about their thoughts and feelings. This is hard for many, even Ziana sometimes. Pull out a feelings chart like this one; https://feelingswheel.com
- Share Your Day: Make it a two-way conversation by sharing details about your day. This sets an example and makes your child more willing to reciprocate. I share many details about my past, not the bad bad bad ones, but the semi-bad ones. They need to know you’ve made mistakes too.
- Be Patient: Sometimes, children need time to process and articulate their thoughts. Be patient and avoid pressuring them to speak quickly. Maybe all they need is a long hug and head rub.
- Express Empathy: Validate their emotions by expressing understanding. Use statements like “I can imagine that must have been difficult for you.” You can throw in an experience of your own here.
- Avoid Judgment: Ensure your child knows they can share without fear of judgment. Be open-minded, even if their perspective differs from yours. Sometimes they come around and will see your perspective after some mild reluctance.
- Timing Matters: Choose the right time to talk. Avoid starting serious conversations when your child is stressed or distracted. Ziana has the tendency to stress out because she has trouble expressing herself. We do some breathing expresses and stop the conversation for a bit before we try again.
- Use Everyday Opportunities: Utilize routine activities, such as mealtime or car rides, to initiate casual conversations. Sometimes, children feel more at ease when there’s no direct eye contact. As soon as I pick both my babies up I ask about their day, what was their favorite part about today, what did they learn, was anyone mean to them, what did they eat, and so on.
- Encourage Journaling: For children who may find it challenging to express themselves verbally, suggest keeping a journal. This provides an alternative outlet for their thoughts and feelings. This is more Gunner, not Z, Even though he doesn’t spell well, he loves to talk about his day (a few sentences) or likes to write about how I made him mad because I had him do a spelling test.
- Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. This positive reinforcement encourages them to share more with you. For instance, when Z didn’t want to talk to her friends about how she felt, I told her when she decided to talk to them we would celebrate with milkshakes! The next day she spoke to them!
- Be Genuine and Honest: Children can sense authenticity. Be genuine and honest in your conversations, creating a trustworthy foundation. Don’t make sure yourself out to look like Mother Teresa, we know the skeletons you have hidden!
Remember, building a strong parent-child communication requires consistency and patience. By creating a safe, non-judgmental space, you lay the groundwork for a relationship where your child feels comfortable opening up to you for years to come!