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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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