Licensed Mental Health Counselor
As summer wraps up and everyone jumps back into their school year schedule, a mix of both worry and excitement fill many homes. Before you know it, children and families will be swamped with homework and responsibilities, while still trying to keep family fun on the agenda. Often families get lost in the routine, not totally aware of how their little ones are doing. In my clinical work, I hear many of the same struggles coming up: families are overwhelmed and overworked with little time to check-in and connect, or parents are asking the questions and not getting much in return. Here are a few pointers to boost the chances that your child (or teen, or even young adult!) are more likely to engage in a peaceful dialogue and open up with you.
Take a non-judgmental stance. I think a lot of us can recall how uncomfortable it was to talk to our parents, or trusted loved ones for that matter, about how we’re feeling and what experiences we’re having. Now I want you to imagine going into this conversation with the awareness that you will be looked at in a negative light or criticized for something you said or did. Would that make you more likely to go talk to that person? I think not!
In that vein, it’s important that you watch your reactions. Remind yourself that you might not like everything your child or teen has to share and guess what? that’s okay! Just like you, they’re learning. Learning comes with hiccups and mistakes. So take a deep breath. Count down from 3. Most importantly, keep your cool. So much can come from back and forth dialogue. I guarantee that if you share your thoughts or even concerns in a peaceful tone, they’re more likely to stick.
We often focus on the tangible, qualifying factors like grades and exams, not placing as much emphasis on some of the less obvious areas like social functions, new experiences, and connection. Follow up on different areas. Check-in with your child about what they’ve been playing, any upcoming school rallies or celebrations, maybe even new foods they’ve tried. That’s not to say that grades and performance aren’t significant, but their social and emotional functioning is just as vital.
Another common struggle that families often share is getting short answers from their child or teen. “Yes,” “no,” “I don’t know.” These responses tend to infuriate parents. If the goal is to get the most information possible, it’s important that we word the questions to reflect this. Ask open ended questions. Maybe this year instead of saying, “Are you excited to see your friends?,” you can say something more along the lines of: “How are you feeling about seeing your friends again?,” or “what are you most excited about?.” And when you’re finally getting that information you’ve been wanting, put everything aside. I know this should go without being said but the reality of the world we live in is constant stimulation from various forms of technology and gadgets. It can wait. Something as small as 10 minutes of your undivided attention can have such a profound impact on your child’s development, more so than any text or notification you’ve just received.
Lastly, I encourage all families to express feelings of empathy and compassion. The issue may be trivial or have a simple resolution, however that’s usually not what the child is focused on. I hear from parents how painful it can feel to see their child suffering and quickly jump to protect them. I’m here to encourage you to start with compassion, not solutions. We all have an innate need to be seen, cared for and validated. Let your child know that their emotions are valid and like most things they will pass.
I hope you take what you need from this and continue to connect with your little ones. Allowing for your child to share openly with you, knowing that they will be heard and received in a loving way is an invaluable gift that you can give to them. Don’t get me wrong. It may take some practice, but once you’re there you’ll be glad you put in the work.
OVER TO YOU:
What’s one way you can switch up your regular routine when talking to your child?