Is your child unwilling or unable to tell you her concerns, worries, or even the daily goings-on? Well, join the pack of mums and dads who feel that they can’t just seem to break into their child’s hearts and heads no matter what they try.
And to make the situation even more puzzling, you may even have another child in the same house who babbles constantly about her feelings, what you’ve done to mess up her life, or the details of her friends’ daily activities. Often you wish that your budding talk show guest’s chatter would somehow rub off on her more reticent sister!
Well, both styles can be fine, but each comes with pros and cons. You’re never sure how to react when your talkative one has a meltdown-is she really in a state of crisis or will she recover before suppertime?
But at least your daughter keeps you informed of her daily ups and downs so you can keep a finger on her emotional barometer. What about her sister, the child who rarely shares her feelings and at times seems to have none, even when you know that her heart has been broken or her pride hurt? That’s tough and it takes some savvy parenting to help the reticent communicator to open up.
Setting the stage
There are some basic dos and don’ts for encouraging your child to communicate with you. Set the stage for gaining your child’s trust in confiding in you as early as possible. Habits begun at a young age are easier to form and have a greater staying power.
Try not to be critical when your child complains to you about a problem. If your initial impulse is to blame your daughter, she will most likely think twice before sharing her problems with you again in the near future.
Making assumptions can be off base and damaging to a relationship. Gather the facts before jumping to conclusions. By listening first, you’re telling your child that you are on the same team and that you’re there for her, although you may not always agree with her thoughts or actions.
Schedule time together.
To encourage your child to use you as a sounding board or a confidant, you need to have consistent private time with each other. Bedtime is a time to wrap up the day, both emotionally and physically¸ and if your evening routine contains this ritual, it becomes second nature to use it as talking time.
Taking walks with the children can lead to quiet moments when they can open up. Set up a routine that periodically places you alone with each child and you will be pleasantly surprised with how quickly the silence is broken an thoughts and confidences are share!
Shut up and listen.
After setting up the stage for communication you need to become a good listener if you want your child to confide in you. When it comes to children’s feelings, most of us have a tendency to jump in and try to fix things so that they are not uncomfortable, in emotional pain, or worried.
When you rush to the rescue, though, your actions may be perceived by your child as, “ I can’t figure out, so mum has to do it.” Or “I shouldn’t have to experience indecision or confusion. Dad’s going to fix it.” Wrong messages-although your intentions are noble, you are depriving your child of learning how to deal with negative emotions or remedying the situation herself.
Promote communication. Tell your children that you enjoy hearing what’s going on in their lives and that you feel that it’s important to establish good communication within the home.
Be especially sensitive with reticent children. If your child tends to keep things to herself, assure her that you can keep a secret, especially if she tells you that it’s a sensitive topic. If so, keep your word and keep your mouth shut.
Model good communication yourself.
Tell your children about some of your problems but be selective. Perhaps discuss your frustration about an annoying coworker or a difficult decision that you’re going to have to make in the near future.
Let them see that seeking other people’s opinions and ideas may be very helpful and can enable you to better put things into perspective. Hopefully they will see the connection to sharing their own problems and decisions with you.
Promote good listening skills. If your child is very verbal and communicates feelings readily, help her to be a good listener. Teach that it’s better to let others finish their sentences and thoughts, to shy away from being too judgmental, and to learn to keep confidences if they want to become good confidants themselves!