Respectful Communication = Open Communication With Your Kids
A child seldom needs a good talking to as much as a good listening to. – Robert Brault
As a parent who wants open and productive communication with their kids, it’s important that you develop some important tools and skills, tools that will be effective whether your kid is young or old.
One such tool is…
Show Respect and Empathy
If you want or need to approach a sensitive subject or a sensitive kid, consider the following ideas to show that you respect the child and empathize with how he or she feels:
- Provide your kid some privacy, respect his or her space, and maybe talk in a place where he/she is most comfortable.
- Make eye contact, but be subtle about it by sitting next to your child as opposed to face-to-face.
- Have a comfort item available for your child such as his or her favorite toy, pillow, or blanket. This is not just for very young kids; often teenagers are more comfortable talking while sitting on their own beds and hugging their pillows.
- Start by telling them that you appreciate how they feel.
This is Jennifer’s story…
Jennifer, a single mom, is worried about how her six- and eight-year old sons will take the news that due to financial difficulties, Jennifer can no longer afford after-school babysitting when she works late. She needs to tell the kids that their grandmother is coming to live with them in their small home for a while, and she is worried about their reactions.
She begins by asking her boys to remain at the breakfast table one Saturday, and she makes sure there are no distractions. To begin the conversation on a positive note, she tells them how grateful she is for their helping her out with household chores. Then, with a soft smile on her face, she says, “You two are my angels. I love you, and Grandma loves you. She wants to be here to hang out with you two, have fun, and make sure you get snacks after school, just like I do every day when you get home from school. Some days I have to work late and can’t be here when you come home from school, but don’t worry; Grandma will be here with you so you feel safe and always have someone here, even if I have to work late. Do you understand?“
Now the kids have a chance to ask questions and clarify any confusion they might have. The kids may feel confused or anxious in response to a big change in their environment. Most kids at their ages don’t like change. Major transitions, such as a member of their family moving in or out of the home, may cause some anxiety.
In Jennifer’s approach, so far every statement she makes focuses on the children’s needs. After all, they are only six and eight. She wants to focus on the positive, mention how the kids’ needs will be met, and how positive the change will be for them. She doesn’t want to burden the kids with concerns they can’t process or cope with at their ages. For example, she doesn’t want to get into why she has to work late, or why she cant afford the cool babysitter (whom the kids love). She also doesn’t want to focus on details or logistics. She’ll address those when she welcomes the kids’ questions.
Most importantly, she doesn’t focus on her own needs. For example, she didn’t say,”Boys, Mommy needs some help taking care of you after school. I can’t do everything alone. I have to work to put food on the table and buy those expensive clothes you guys need…” Although these are the facts, and may be exactly how she feels, her young sons don’t need to hear this as part of understanding that Grandma is coming to live with them for a while.
Also, note that Jennifer doesn’t make the mistake of “asking for permission.” This common mistake often takes place unintentionally. For example, she may have said, “Hey kids, how would you like it if Grandma came to stay with us for a while?” The kids would have seen this as Mom giving them a choice, when no choice exists. She would have run the risk of hearing, “No thank you.” Then what?
Instead, Jennifer focuses on the kids’ needs, and the positive aspects of the plan. She includes them in the process and allows them to ask questions. Her approach helped to ensure she was heard.
As a parent strategist, Dr. Sherkat has many tools to help you strengthen your parenting skills.
She speaks to various groups…you can hire her for your next parenting workshop, conference or parenting event.