Talking with your children can be a real challenge, particularly at times when you feel things are derailing. Just when you think it’s going well, your child suddenly has an emotional reaction and you haven’t a clue what just happened!
Keeping the lines of communication open is an extremely important part of successfully talking with your children and letting them know that what they have to say is important. The best way I know how to help you do this, is to share what I do with my young patients.
Well, to start off–let me tell you what I do wrong. Sometimes I get into lecture mode or I interrupt, use big words or say confusing things. Sometimes I can’t keep a reaction off my face. And very rarely my attention wanders.
Some expert, huh? Well, nobody’s perfect.
But here’s what I do right…
I own my behavior. I take full responsibility and apologize. Or, I start over if it looks as though they are confused. And I stop in mid-sentence if they begin to get that glazed look on their face. And here are some things I might say:
• “I’m so sorry I interrupted. Please go on, I promise I’ll do a better job of listening.”
• “Uh, oh—I’m beginning to sound like a parent. OK–lecture over. I’m sorry.”
• “Oops! Rewind!” (And I sound as though I’m saying my words backwards. Or I very dramatically take the look off my face.) Usually, I get a laugh; this helps break the tension and steer the conversation back on track.
• “I’m sorry, I’m not asking my question right. Let me try again.”
And, sometimes if I don’t realize my blunder until after the child is gone, I will address it the next time I see him:
• “I owe you an apology. After you left last time I realized that I…”
And when I’m not busy taking my foot out of my mouth, I am usually responding in a way that shows interest, and a desire to hear more. This can be anything from body language (an encouraging nod, moving closer, smiling;) to voicing excitement, pride, empathy or validation; to asking open-ended questions or ones for clarification or more detail.
Basically, the key to talking with your kids is to get out of the way and allow the words to flow. And if your mouth should happen to get in the way, I hope you have very small feet and yummy tasty toes.