One day you are playing, laughing, and having a great time bonding with your toddler on the floor. Then, the next thing you know that happy-go-lucky toddler is now a tween and running up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door shut just to keep from talking to you. In the back of your mind you are thinking, “Where did I go wrong”?
Don’t worry! What you are experiencing is completely normal. Children go through different stages in their development and as a result, so does their ability to communicate. They go from learning to say words, to repeating everything they hear, to slamming doors to keep from talking to us. Communication, though, should never stop. It is vital to keep the lines of communication with your child open at all times.
Getting our children to talk to us is an ongoing process, and it begins at birth. When your newborn cries, you pick him up, which communicates to him that you are there for him. As you listen to your toddler sing, and then sing along with her, you are saying, “I am interested in who you are and what you are doing”. When you pick your elementary school age kids up and ask how their day was, you are communicating to them, “I care about you and want to know the things you experience.” As your teenager sulks in her seat and lets out a big sigh, you reach over to squeeze her hand and say, “I am here for you.” These gestures let our kids know that we have been there for them from the beginning, and want to continue to have a close connection with them.
Of course, sometimes there are breakdowns in the communication, or it simply stops altogether. Especially as children get older, they become more private and less likely to open up to their parents. Some of this is because they do not know exactly how their parents will react, other times it is because they do not know how to put into words exactly what they feel. Remember, kids tend to shut down if parents begin overreacting to what they are trying to say. Rather than give a lengthy explanation, they would just rather not deal with it. When talking with your child, there are some key points to take into consideration:
- When they initiate conversation, drop everything and respond. How you respond is crucial to creating and maintaining openness.
- Let your children vent, and let them figure out their own solutions. You can help brainstorm ideas, but in the end children have to solve their own problems. In doing this, they will be more likely to seek you out the next time they have a problem.
- Do not get angry. Our children need us to stay neutral, and they want us to remain calm and collected. Remember, closeness to your child is your priority.
- Reaffirm how much you love your children and how you appreciate them coming to you. Let them know that you always want to have a close relationship with them.
What can you do if your children will not initiate conversation? How can you get them to open up and talk to you? Start by talking about something that interests them. Ask them about their favorite football team or their favorite music video. Children are more likely to talk when they realize that you are interested in the things that are important to them. This builds trust, and nurtures the close relationship that we as parents strive for. The more they feel like they can talk to you about the little things, the more likely they will open up about the bigger issues. There are some things to remember when they do begin to open up. First, be completely available to them, and this includes turning off the cell phone. Listen closely to what they are saying without interrupting. Be sure to ask nonjudgmental questions. Do not ask “why” questions, no one wants to feel like they are on trial. Do not press them to say more than they want, just be thankful for what they did share. If things get a little too heated, take a time out. If you want your child to continue to talk, you must remain calm.
If you want your relationship with your child to continue to grow, then you have to make time for them. Be sure you take time to connect with them everyday. Also, talk to them in private; they do not like to be ambushed in front of an audience. Get in their space, such as watching a football game or playing “Just Dance” with them. When you add special time into your daily routines, kids will begin to view this as an opportunity to open up. Parents, we must refrain from spying or snooping. Yes, you need to check your children’s social media accounts and texts, but you cannot purposefully seek out others to gain information on them. If you do happen to find something on their social media, do not immediately attack your child. Give him or her a chance to own up to it and talk about what happened. Sometimes kids may find it easier to open up to you in a text rather than in person. Do not be offended if this is how your child feels. At least they feel comfortable enough to open up to you, no matter the form.
Talking with our children is vital. Positive communication builds self-esteem, and when we listen to them, they feel important and loved. Being able to communicate with our children can also help protect them from danger. Open communication makes them less susceptible to peer pressure and better able to handle hard decisions. Once they are in their teenage years, communication is especially important. If you have a close relationship, your teen will be more likely to open up about the important things such as relationships, school, sex, and drugs. Our prayer is that they will come to us, instead of either turning to friends or social media for guidance, or just dealing with it alone. I do not know about you, but I want my children to take their father and me for granted because they know that we are and will be there for them. I pray they go to God first and us next.
“Children are a gift from the Lord, they are a reward from Him” Psalm 127:3