Good Communication to Last a Lifetime

What we all want is to have loving, connected relationships with our children. We want our children to love talking to us about their lives. We wantthem to open up to us, to feel safe with us and for them to know they can come to us for anything. We want them to grow into adults who love our company, want to be around us and see us as their greatest confidantes. So how do we cultivate this from the start? Here I’m going to share with you the top strategies for communicating with children and, most importantly, helping them feel at ease in communicating with you.

  1. Stay curious and open
    Ask open-ended questions that foster sharing and connection. Here are some useful phrases to support the openness, “Tell me more about it,” “What was that like for you?” “How did you feel about that?” and, my personal favorite— “I wonder…” Questions of curiosity help us learn more about our children and they help our children to know that we are genuinely interested and care about what they’re sharing.

  2. Listen more than you talk
    It’s tempting to give advice, offer solutions and share our opinions with our children. But more often than not, it’s not what is helpful in inspiring them to lean on us for communication. It’s important that we slow down and set an intention to listen, rather than talk.
    Leave the distractions aside and be present with your child at these times. Pay attention. Make eye contact. Show delight in their delights, show genuine caring and empathy for the struggles. Reflect back to them the feelings they are expressing, “Wow, it sounds like that was really hard for you,” or “Yay, you’re so excited about that!”
    And ask permission before offering advice and solutions. When you get their buy-in, you know they actually want your help and it will penetrate far more than the unsolicited advice and opinions that can often lead to the dreaded eye roll and a break in the connection with you.

  3. Get to know your child’s communication style, rhythms and nuances.
    The more we are present with our children, the more we notice and can attune to the nuances of their connection and communication with us. Be sure and tune in when you hear their cue that they’re about to open up. Your child may say, “Mommy, guess what…” or they get real quiet for a few minutes but have a certain look on their face that you know all too well. Maybe they come sit next to you or come stand and watch you. Every child is different, but when we pay attention, we’ll be able to get to know our children’s nuances for communication. And we can take that as our cue to put everything else aside, listen and connect.

  4. No lectures
    Believe it or not, it’s completely futile!When we are tempted to lecture our children, it’s a cue that we are triggered and we’re trying to gain a sense of control. Far better to deal with our trigger than to create a disconnect with our child through a lecture. Lectures do not inspire children to listen and do what you want them to do. They merely make children feel disempowered and wrong, and we miss the mark on what our child was trying to communicate to us, either through their behavior or their language. 

  5. Share with them your experiences from childhood that relate to theirs
    Children love knowing that we can relate to them. It makes them feel heard and seen. It helps them know that they’re not alone and that someone really gets it. They love hearing our stories, both fun and challenging, of things we’ve been through. And they will remember these well into their own adulthood. Think of the stories your parents shared with you when you were a child— you undoubtedly imagined your mom or dad as a little one having the experiences that they told you about—and you remember those stories to this day. When we offer stories that let our children know that we’ve gone through similar experiences, it means the world to them and gives them permission to ask us for advice on how to handle things. 

The most important thing in fostering a lifetime of healthy, open communication with children is that we take a genuine interest and deep care in who they are and how they’re feeling. When we come at children with our own agendas, they shrink and retract from staying open with us. When we come from a place of understanding and openness, our kids feel loved, cherished and seen. When 

Setting Limits with Love

Imagine you are super excited, you have a ton of energy and you’re running around the house being your cute, goofy, wild little self. And then someone tells you, “STOP”. How do you feel? You probably feel shut down, at a loss, sad, ashamed… 

When we set limits with a hard “no”, especially when this comes with parental anger or negativity, children start to perceive themselves as “bad” and go to that place of shame and self-hate, when this is a repeated pattern. 

Setting limits is a necessary part of parenting. These little people are learning how to be in the world and often they don’t know how to pump or fully apply the brakes when something isn’t a good choice. Setting limits is a way that our children learn to make better choices. Children learn self-regulation through appropriate limit-setting. They can learn to set their own boundaries and to redirect their behavior. Now this doesn’t mean to start setting limits all over the place. Set limits when it’s necessary and allow the flow and creativity when you can. 

So how to we set appropriate limits? 

When our kids misbehave, it’s actually an opportunity for us to learn more about them, understand what they’re expressing about their emotional world, and to help them foster a deeper, more connected relationship with themselves—if we can support them in handling it well. 

For example—the child who hits his brother or peers when he’s angry is telling you that he needs help learning how to manage his anger in safe, healthy ways. The child who sneaks a cookie when she’s already been told no — another impulse control issue— is telling you that she needs some support in waiting our her body’s impulses. This information is important for you to know because it gives you direction on what you can be working on with your child in constructive ways. 

So how do we set limits when children are misbehaving? It has to start with connection. Disciplining children isn’t about punishments or consequences for them to “learn”. Those things don’t teach—they suppress and quite honestly they usually make children more frustrated, which comes out later in other ways. It misses the mark on what is being expressed by the child and doesn’t give them that full opportunity to be understood, met and redirected in safe and healthy ways.

Discipline actually comes from the word “disciple” which is rooted in learning. We’re helping our children learn that it’s safe to be them, their urges are normal AND that we’ll help them learn other ways to express what their wanting/needing/learning. We need to connect with their emotions and really become detectives for what the child is trying to communicate with their misbehavior. And then we address is from the place of connection. 

So, little billy who hits his brother… it could be something like, “Woah! I can see that you’re frustrated and I get that! Brothers are not for hitting. Let’s take some time apart and I will come in and talk to each of you about this.” 

I also love the phrase, “Show me another way.” When our children act out their emotions in those ways that can seem like “bad behavior” we can say, “Sweetie, I get it. You’re feeling a lot right now! It’s ok to feel upset—and I’m not going to let you break that—show me another way!” 

When you need to set a limit with your child, really check in with yourself first… do you need a moment to regroup, release your own triggered emotions and get to a place or regulation? Then consider—how can I connect first, and then redirect the behavior? How can i use this as an opportunity to understand my child better? How can this help us grow as a family? 

If you need help with limit setting and want to talk more, I’ll be soon offering some amazing courses on this and I offer one-on-one parent consultations to support you with your family’s needs. 

What to do instead of saying “Calm Down”

It’s time to stop telling our kids, “Calm Down”!    (or any version of calm down)

“But I thought that was the goal when my child is losing it—to get her to calm down,” says the disgruntled parent who is dealing with meltdown number 53 of the week—and it’s only Tuesday.

Here’s what I say: Our goal is to help children feel whole—grounded and connected to themselves in an authentic way. When a child is having a blow up, they are in an authentic expression of their emotional experience. And this emotional cycle needs the space and the time to release and express itself. In other words, children need to process their emotions to completion and we are there to provide the space, time and support to allow them to do this. 

Asking or telling children to “calm down” in these moments is not only virtually impossible, but actually teaches them to suppress and override their emotions without integration. This was likely our own childhood experience if we are someone (like most) who become triggered by our kids’ big emotional expressions. We were not taught that it is ok to truly have, feel and release our emotions. So our unconscious mind actually projects this unresolved part of ourselves onto our children.

In that moment of meltdown, blow up and big emotions, your child feels scared, overwhelmed and helpless. They are not freaking out in order to intentionally disrupt the family or manipulate a situation. They are overwhelmed by their emotions and don’t have another way of expressing those feelings. So they get their point across in the most effective way they know how, with a nervous system response that looks like a tiger in fight mode. 

The way to bring them back to a feeling of safety is to connect with them. And the only way we can authentically do this is if we are working on our own deep-seated triggers. Here’s the thing—our children are our greatest teachers. They are literally here to reflect back to us the parts of us that haven’t been healed and are still hurting. So when we see that our children are losing it, as much as we want to “calm down” (aka control) their behaviors, what we need to do is connect with ourselves. Take a breath, feel the sensations in your body, notice what emotions have come up for you. Are you angry, scared, helpless, overwhelmed, sad…? THIS is the part of you that needs your own love and support right now.

Now let’s come back to our little one—the one having a colossal meltdown and tearing apart his room, making threats, destroying things he’s worked hard on. He too is scared. He too is overwhelmed. He too needs love, support and acceptance. But he is little with an undeveloped frontal cortex, and he isn’t equipped to give it to himself at this point. So the honor goes to you. And here is what I suggest. Allow him to have his feelings. Let him know it is safe to feel what he is feeling. You can ask, “Would you like me to hold you while you have your feelings? I am in this with you. It’s safe to feel this. You’re not alone…” Then allow the feelings to move through while you become the container for his experience. Hold space, hold him close, let him know he is safe and he can let it out as he needs to. That you are here and you love him no matter what. 

And finally, when things have settled and you take a moment, come back to yourself. Journal. Move your body. Breathe. Do what you need to do to release your energy. But then become a detective for your own emotions by using the gift your child gave you. THIS is what needs to be healed in you. And the more you heal it, the less you will see it reflected back to you by your littles. Life becomes more harmonious, joyful and fun.

If you are in need of support for going deeper into your own journey with this, please reach out to your therapist or to me. I am here for you and I’d be honored to help you navigate your own healing through this amazing journey of parenting.