*Throughout this article I refer to all ages of kids using the terms “kids” and “child/ren.” Please note that these principles apply to children, adolescents, and teens.
In recent years the methods and ease of communicating with others have increased significantly with the rise in technology. While there used to be only a handful of ways to communicate with others now the possibilities are seemingly endless. Calling, texting, Skype, and the various social media outlets have made us the most connected we’ve ever been. It’s interesting, however, how often parents express the desire to have more open communication and a deeper connection with their kids in spite of these advances.
If anyone is connected and communicating via technology it’s the up and coming generations, so why are parents feeling disconnected in the midst of this? I believe that this was a struggle for parents long before Twitter or SnapChat entered the picture, these new entities have just provided a new challenge in communication between the generations. Parents want desperately to know what’s going on in their children’s lives, but the road to get there can seem fraught with obstacles. Despite these new methods of communicating it can still seem as though a chasm exists between yourself as a parent and your kids. Perhaps, however, technology has less to do with this struggle than we assume. Technology is a tool or method to communicate with others, but in order to truly connect and have open communication with another person there is something much different that must be in place first – a trusting relationship. In order to know how to best foster open and honest communication with your child, some self reflection might be a good place to start.
When we really sit down and think about our own communication and ability to be open and vulnerable with others, I think many adults would find they experience a level of fear in opening up to others (at least to a certain degree). I know this can be true for me, is it true for you as well? This is a natural response for anyone because vulnerability is risky and that risk can cultivate fear. Have you ever had experiences where you’ve opened up about how you’re feeling and it didn’t go well? Maybe you felt rejected by your spouse or demeaned by your boss. Whatever the situation, we all have both positive and negative experiences that influence if and how will open up to others. After a particularly negative experience of being vulnerable it’s only natural that the next time an opportunity arises we might be wary of risking again. If it didn’t go well the last time why should we try again and risk the negative consequences?
Keeping that process in mind, now imagine that you are a kid again. You really want to tell your parents about something that happened but are scared to because last time it didn’t go so well. Maybe your parents reacted harshly and punished you before knowing the whole story. Maybe they made you feel stupid and judged. Maybe they didn’t really even lesson. All of these examples and more are ways that children experience there parents. I would also venture a guess that you can think of times these or similar situations happened to you as a kid – I know I can. Perhaps then, connecting with kids has more to do with approachability and trust than technology or schedules. That being said, what are ways you can foster open and honest communication and build trust with your child? Here are several ways to encourage connection with your kids.
- Practice What You Preach. We all know the old adage that “actions speak louder than words,” and this is so true for kids. Parenting can be likened to leadership, in that if the leader does the right thing, the individuals he/she is leading will follow. Your kids need a strong leader and by following your own advice, your kids will learn that your word has merit and value.
- Consistency is Key. Inconsistency can breed doubt in your kids; doubt that you mean what you say (see above), doubt in consequences, and doubt in your trustworthiness. Think about it, if someone is constantly changing their mind or changing the rules, you begin to question everything they say and might assume they’re not being serious or aren’t trustworthy.
- Learn to Listen. Whether big things or small things, learn to listen to what your child is saying. Listening to the little things your child talks about (their day at school, friends, interests, etc.) helps to build a foundation of trust so that when and if bigger things arise, they know they can come to you. Keep an open mind because whatever they choose to talk about more than likely means it’s important to them. By listening and trying to understand the things that go on in your child’s world you communicate that you care. The most common thing I hear when working with teens is that they just want mom and dad to listen. In the same way adults value being heard, so do your kids.
- Respond Don’t React. As you listen to your child, try your best to not be reactive or judgmental, but to calmly listen with curiosity. If kids assume their parents are going to overreact or “blow up” at them when they share certain information, it’s likely they will just not share it. Even in situations that warrant you stepping in and taking a more authoritative stance given what they have shared with you (i.e. safety concerns), this can still be done lovingly and without reactivity.
- Make Yourself Available. Time is of the essence with kids; before too long they won’t be kids anymore. Make the most of the time you have and be intentional in connecting with them. More often than not your kids just want and need you to be fully engaged with them.
- Apologize When Needed. One of the greatest examples you can set for your child is modeling humility by apologizing. If you do react poorly with your kids, apologize for it and communicate that you want to do better in the future. This process shows your kids that everybody messes up and how important it is to own up to mistakes and apologize. Additionally, it is the perfect opportunity to practice vulnerability and model healthy communication.
While this list is not exhaustive, these principles could jumpstart a connection with your kids that perhaps you’ve not experienced before. Take it slow and easy and just do your best. As I said before, the connection you have with your kids has little to do with outside forces, and everything to do with having a trusting relationship. If this article piqued your interest and you’d like to talk more about how to implement these strategies, I’d love to meet with you. Just call 502-751-8504 to set up an appointment.
For other parenting tips and resources, check out the links below.