Practically every parent I speak to experiences the ‘after school shutdown’. This is when you ask your child about their day only to get one-word answers. You ask how their day was and you get …. ‘good’. You ask what they studied and you get…. ‘nothing’. After a couple of attempts to draw your child out into a conversation, you give up and everyone feels better.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Parents often ask me how they can establish open communication with their children. So don’t think that you are the only one who experiences the ‘shutdown’. And it’s not uncommon for parents to actually feel as though they don’t know their own children very well at all.
Remember when they were little and you felt like you knew them very well? Remember when they told you all their secrets? Do you ever find yourself wondering who these little people ‘really are’ and what is actually happening in their lives?
The subject of ‘communicating with children’ comes up a lot in coaching and emails that I receive. It seems that most parents at one time or another struggle to keep the lines of communication with their children open.
Without getting into the reasons for this, today we’re just going to focus on positive things parents can do to create a family environment that encourages your children to open up and join in conversations and discussions.
When your son/daughter tells you something, try to open the subject up more by asking questions like:
- Oh, that’s interesting!
- How did you feel when that happened?
- What else did they say?
- Did anything else happen?
- Wow, what was that like for you?
If you can get your child to explain more then you can respond:
- Ok, so now I understand. You sure explained that to me well.
- Hey, you sure know how to explain things.
- Wow, you’re a great story-teller.
If your child draws a picture don’t just say ‘that’s nice’:
Wow, how did you get that (wavy, dotty, scratchy) effect?
If your child does some writing at school, say a poem or a short story or a letter:
- Hey can you make a copy of that for me, so I can always have it?
- Wow, can I show my friends what you did?
Of course, you have to tailor these questions to fit your family. But you can get the idea. What you are trying to achieve is to make your child feel that you find them a lot more interesting, clever and valuable than they ever suspect that they are.
You are taking steps to give courage to your child to keep putting their best foot forward and to know that you are their biggest supporter.
Handling your Childs Fears, Failures and Fear of Failure:
Of course, you will also need to learn how to handle your child’s fears and failures. Or even more devastating to the development of self-esteem, is your child’s fear of failure. This fear can paralyse your son/daughter so they don’t even attempt things that they may perceive themselves as likely to fail.
This is why it is essential to be building the relationship with your child in which you praise their effort and not only their achievement. For even when a child feels their achievement is lacking, they will need to know that their effort is even more important and that you as a parent place extremely high emphasis on the effort, energy and commitment, your child puts into things.
Situations in which your child perceives themselves as having failed or at risk of failing require a lot more sensitivity from a parent.
Here are some suggestions to help you talk with your child when their confidence is waning:
- I know you didn’t get the result you were hoping for, but I have never been more proud of your effort.
- I understand you are upset right now, but I was so proud of the way you went about that.
- I can see you are disappointed. I hope you realize that I am not. I think it was amazing how you ….. ( fill in the blank with a sincere comment about something that was commendable).
And last, but definitely not least, remember to share your own achievements and failures with your child (where appropriate). Look for opportunities to say how certain achievements make you feel so proud. Let them know that you felt fear or risk of failure, but how you faced up to it and now you’re glad you did. Of course, don’t burden the child with the ins and outs of your adult life, but it never hurts to create dialogue and impart vocabulary so your child exists in an environment where family members share their efforts, achievements and failures with one another in a safe and supportive environment.
This is a starting place to create that environment. Before you know it, you will be privy to much more information about your child, the realities of their world and their ups and downs than you ever thought possible.
I know many parents will have some amazing stories about how they turned their child’s lack of communication around. We’d love to hear about how you did it.
Talk back to me.