During media interviews, I’m often asked for advice about a range of delicate topics, including everything from suicide and bullying to grades and social media. One piece of advice that continues to surface in almost every interview is the importance of communicating with your child. When children are very young, this is easier to do, of course, since they are typically quick to share what’s on their mind. But as they grow, children tend to keep their feelings to themselves, and it may be more difficult to initiate a conversation.
If you’re struggling to talk with your child – or you’d simply like to set the stage for good parent-child communication – the following tips should help:
- Be ready. Parents of older kids know that the best conversations occur when you’re least expecting them. They also know from experience that there may be certain times when your child is most likely to talk. This often happens while driving in the car, perhaps because it forces you to spend time together in a contained environment and, frankly, it may be easier because you’re not looking at each other. Regardless of where or when your child decides to talk, be ready to seize the opportunity when it occurs. Spontaneous conversations are often the best conversations – especially when talking with teens.
- Pay attention. Regardless of your child’s age, make sure he or she knows you’re engaged in the conversation. Put your phone down. Stop what you’re doing. Look your child in the eye – and devote your full attention to the conversation that’s unfolding.
- Be a good listener. Show that you’re interested in what your child is saying, and don’t try to respond before he’s finished making his point. It some instances, it may be helpful to repeat some of what your child says to demonstrate that you’re listening and that you understand. Keep in mind that there are times when all your child wants is to be heard and understood.
- Make it a conversation – not a lecture. As parents, it may be tempting to tell your kids what to do rather than listening to their point of view. Instead, try to engage in a conversation where you both talk and listen. This sends the message that you value what your child has to say, and that it’s not always about getting your child to do what you want him to do.
- Share your own stories. A good way to get your child to open up is to share something about yourself. It’s hard to expect your kids to talk about themselves if you’re not willing to do the same. Chances are, your experiences will remind them of something similar that’s happening in their life and consequently trigger a conversation. Perhaps even more important, it demonstrates that you’re a real person with feelings and experiences that aren’t that different from their own.
- Show an interest in your child’s interests. Looking for a way to connect with your child? Try making a conscious effort to learn more about his or her interests. Maybe your son loves music, or your daughter is a weather buff. Since people naturally like to talk about their passions, this is a great way to engage with your kids. Encourage them to teach you about the things that interest them. By doing so, they’ll appreciate that you’re trying to find common ground.
- Don’t give up. Still not finding a way to talk with your child? Be persistent. If your child spends a lot of time alone in his room, knock on the door and try to jumpstart the conversation. If it’s been a long time since you communicated this way, it may take awhile to restart the dialogue. But giving up should not be an option.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.