5 Ways to Encourage Open Communication With Your Children:
1. Create opportunities for them to talk without distractions.
By nature, children want to share and talk about their lives from their own perspective. However, in the busy world we live in today, opportunities for them to talk to the adults in their world without distraction can be challenging and because of that can keep them from really letting you know what is going on in their world. Create space and time where your child can talk to you without distraction of the tv, phones, ipad, or other people. Take them on a walk, play with them in their room or in their own space, or turn off the music in the car as you drive and give them your undivided attention. By creating space for them to share, not only will you get to know what is going on in their world, you will also be reinforcing to your child how much you truly love and care about them.
2. Talk about the things that are important to them.
When children share, they share all kinds of things. Some of them may not seem that important or of significance, but to your child it is. Remembering that everything they say is valuable in their eyes can help you value what they value and make important the things that are important to them. Listen to their stories no matter how silly they may be. When they feel that they are able to freely share with you, you gain their trust and they gain an understanding of how much you care. In addition, children get older and when they do they will feel more comfortable telling you what is going on in their lives if they know you will truly listen to them and value what they say.
3. Listen to them without interrupting, correcting, or getting upset with them.
We live in a world of fixers and doers, we are over programmed and overly busy. When you are talking to your child remember to slow down and allow them to tell their story without feeling the need to change it or hurry it along. Challenge their thinking and help them develop problem solving skills to come up with solutions on their own rather then fixing it for them. Be curious. Ask them ways they can see from other perspectives and to look for many solutions to the same problem they face. Try not to short cut their efforts to problem solve. Listening as they share, sometimes might be upsetting and you might be tempted to correct them. But remember, they are trusting you with the information they are giving you and if they feel shamed or punished for sharing that information they will be less likely to share that information in the future. Instead, empower them for being honest and talking about it with you, then use it as a teaching moment to guide them to do things differently in the future.
4. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Children naturally want to please their parents and do good. So when they share something that makes you question what they are telling you, be sensitive. Children may sound like and even sometimes look like miniature adults but remember they are children. They are still learning and growing and need your love and support throughout the process. Children do the best they can with what they have. When they fail it is often a lack of knowledge or training rather then doing so on purpose. Take every opportunity you have to take a situation and help them learn and grow from it. By helping them develop new skills so they can handle situations more effectively in the future rather then giving them a punishment, not only will they have a greater knowledge of how to do things differently in the future they will be more prone to be open and honest with you in the future.
5. Validate their feelings by reflecting back what you heard them say.
Children, like adults, need their feelings validated no matter how irrational they may be. Heart break, frustration, disappointment, sadness, anger, and all other emotions can be difficult to feel and cope with. Knowing and feeling that someone truly heard you can make all the difference in helping them let go and move forward. Often children have a difficult time naming their emotions. If you notice your child getting upset before jumping to a consequence help them name what they are feeling and help them come up with solutions. “I can see you are so frustrated and disappointed. It is hard when you don’t get your way. It is ok to feel these things but it is not ok to be sassy” Then reflect questions to help them find solutions. “How can you let me know you are feeling these things without sassy and throwing a fit?”. This helps your child develop critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions.