It is easy to go days and even weeks without really listening to your child. There are so many distractions and parents are busy. Here are seven tips to help you start to have real, important conversations with your child.
1. Put away your phone. Turn off the TV. Turn off the music. Stop whatever you are doing. Get rid of any distractions or your child will not feel like you are listening to them. You want your child to know they are more important to you than emails and texts so give them your full attention.
2. Make eye contact. If your child is young, get down on their level. When they are talking, look them in the eye. It might be easiest to both sit down so you are on the same level.
3. Touch your child. You can hold their hand, pat their shoulder, or even just sit with your shoulders touching. Not only does touch lower both of your heart rates and increase your oxytocin levels, but it can give you clues about your child. Is their skin clammy or warm (showing stress levels)? Are they shaking (showing strong emotion)? Are they open to your touch or do they pull away (showing how close they feel to you)?
4. Be patient. Your child needs to know you will listen as long as they need to talk. Don't look at the clock or rush them. It can be hard to really listen without getting distracted. Don't interrupt or finish their sentences.
5. Avoid arguing, criticizing, and judging. Try to not become defensive. Your child is entitled to their opinions, just as you are. Their feelings are tender and they are just learning to interpret what each feeling means. If your child feels you will judge them, they won't open up.
6. Ask questions. Your child will feel you like you really care if you ask more questions. Ask things like:
- do you feel safe at home and at school?
- who are your friends and how do they treat you?
- how do you feel around your teacher?
- did anything sad happen to you today?
- did you ever feel angry today? Why? What did you do?
- do you feel like I am doing a good job as a parent? Is there anything I can do differently?
- are you afraid of anything or anyone?
- what do you worry about at night?
- what is the best thing that happened to you today?
7. Relax. You don't have to have all of the answers for your child. You don't have to solve all their problems. In fact, encourage them to solve their own problems. Listen carefully, ask questions, then ask them what they can do. Your child may surprise you!
If you feel like your child will not open up to you, put them in counseling. A counselor (from a place such as Living Hope Clinic) can help both you and your child learn to communicate. The more you practice, the better you both will get. Good luck!