Children are biologically wired to communicate with their parents, yet as they grow older, they don’t always express their need to connect. Use your position as a parent and find time today (and then aim for a couple of times a week regularly) to talk to your child and start a two-way, open conversation.
Below are a few tips to help you with this:
1. Use one-to-one time
Make your time together quality time. Whether it’s during a car drive, while walking the dog or having a meal together, these moments often present themselves without any special arrangement or agreement and too often we are too busy or too tired to use them. Seize that moment today and start the chat.
2. Start by being a good non-judgemental listener
Sometimes children are willing to share something but there is no convenient time to do just that. Now you have that quality time together, try using some of these questions and statements to begin a conversation with your older child:
- Tell me your most interesting story of today.
- It makes me glad that we have lots of time to talk.
- What were the highs and lows of your day?
- What are the feelings that make you afraid/happy/sad/angry?
- What was the worst part about today for you?
If your child is not ready to talk, start by sharing something yourself. You can use the same prompts for yourself.
3. Be curious
Pay attention to detail and ask questions once they finish sharing.
- Help me understand your feelings a little better. Tell me more.
- Tell me what you were most concerned about then? And now?
- What did you really wish for when this happened?
4. Express empathy
Unconditionally accept your child’s story, without taking sides, validate expressed feelings even if you don’t agree with their point of view. Let them know you empathise with them.
- I wish you didn’t have to go through this.
- Oh, wow, that sounds tough.
- You probably felt really _______________ (fill in emotion).
- No wonder you were (are) upset.
- I’d feel the same way you do in your situation.
- That would make me _______________ (fill in emotion: mad, sad, angry) too.
5. Use the body language of openness (a smile, nod, pat on the shoulder, hug).
The importance of body language and tone of voice in non-verbal communication cannot be overstated. Try these to deepen the connection. Touch your child’s arm to show that you’re paying attention and are concerned about what they’re saying. Mirror their body language and lean forward. And if they have crossed arms and/or legs, slowly change your own body language as the conversation progresses to a more open one, most likely they will follow. Make eye contact with your child and turn to face him or her while being on their level. Be aware that sometimes, it is better to have a deeper meaningful conversation with older children while being “in parallel” (like when you are driving or walking the dog) as it might be easier for them to share without direct eye contact.
6. Look for alternative solutions or give advice should it be needed
This point is for the times when your child directly asks for advice, and/or you both are in a calm state of mind without any high-level emotions that need addressing first. So, assuming you are having a calm constructive conversation, you can continue further and explore deeper. Do not use this time to lecture or give them a prescription, but rather, brainstorm together.
- What could be the next step?
- What can you do differently next time?
- What do you think would be the better outcome of this situation? It is under your control?
Give them time to think and be there to support and encourage.
Several decades of research show that frequent, open and non-judgemental conversations between parents and children build mutual trust and respect, pave the way to stronger connection and boost a child’s self-esteem.
Enjoy your Time to Talk today.
If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.
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Psychotherapy the talking cure