Did you know that there is an art and a science to communication? We all want to be heard and to communicate our feelings and thoughts, but in actuality this skill doesn’t come easily for all of us! It takes practice. We have to accept that we all make mistakes. We have to consider the where, when, why and how to communicate, or "the essentials" when communicating to your adolescent. Kids have more avenues of communication in their life than we (the parents) had to deal with growing up. They live in a world in which texting, social media and email are changing the way they communicate.
So, given all of that, how in the world are we going to have meaningful conversations with our kids to build our relationships with them during these vital years?
Say I love you. Say it often. Say it every single day. Saying “I love you” gives your kids courage. It brings them joy and makes them feel valued. Saying “I love you” helps them to know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Sometimes saying, “I love you” are the only three words they need to open up and talk about the trials they are dealing with.
Ask them about their day. Every day. They may not open up right away, but continuing to ask makes them feel that you care. Be prepared, sometimes they may say something shocking, but that's okay. It's imperative not to react with a negative outburst of anger or sadness (as much as you want to) when they share stories detailing what they are dealing with. You will get your chance to teach them right from wrong, but listening to the full story without judgment will change the course of the conversation. Ask them how they are feeling. Are they feeling angry, sad, happy, or afraid? Let them know that there is nothing wrong with any of those feelings, but it is important not to express those feelings in a way that will hurt themselves or others. An open ear is always better than an open mouth.
Put down your phone, stop working, and pay attention. When you want to have a conversation with your kids, don’t even have your phone in your hands. The habit of constantly checking it will take over. So, put it away and have the conversation. As a parent, you may be constantly working or on the go. Make time specifically for them each day. Making time will show them you are engaged in their life and actually care about what is going on. They are growing and learning each day and you are a very important part of that process.
Connect with your kids. Find some common ground. I started reading Harry Potter the year my son was born. I was hooked. I loved it and as he grew up, he came to love it, too. We would spend hours talking about Harry Potter. He would ask question after question about the plot and that was a huge connector for us. Even today, 15 years later, we will still have long conversations about Harry Potter. Whatever you find that you have in common, use it as bonding time! Have you ever heard them say, “You wouldn’t understand?" Having something in common with them makes you seem more relatable.
Be okay with short and sweet conversations. So many times conversations and the opportunity to connect on their level becomes a lecture. Be aware of your tendency to always want to teach, because you may lose the child’s interest when you start a lecture!
Having your kids' trust you is just as important as your trust in them. They won’t ever fully divulge information about their activities or thoughts if they don’t trust that you will handle it appropriately. Tell them that you trust them. Let them know it, and when they break your trust, let them know that it can be earned back.
Finally, know that it’s important to stay flexible and aware when you communicate; what works one day may not work the next day. The most important thing to your child is being heard and feeling safe enough to talk about what is really going on.
Member of the Board, SELFiD