Little kids and toddlers talk and share… a lot. It’s pretty much what they do best. In fact, many parents consider their small children to be “over-sharers” of oodles of random thoughts and information.
But as kids get older, all that can change. Suddenly, your abundantly chatty 6-year-old becomes a tight-lipped 12-year-old overnight.
Why does this communication phenomenon happen with so many kids as they get older?
It all boils down to trust and how we set up the boundaries of parental communication early on in our parenting relationship.
The younger a child is, the less they pay attention to what and how we say things. They genuinely just want to talk and be with us. So, in order to keep this lovely over-sharing going strong into the teen years and beyond, we need to start preparing now.
It turns out the connection a kid needs to feel with his parents in order to open up and talk to them is cemented long before the teen years. Julie Romanowski, a parenting coach in Vancouver, says communication skills are built even in infancy and toddlerhood. source
And if you’re wondering how to connect and communicate with your little ones, if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Mommy will you play with me?” you just heard it.
Toddlers and small children talk, share, and connect with us through fun and play. I personally am not the mom who loves “playing with my kids”, but it’s a necessary sacrifice that seals the path for open and healthy communication down the road.
We need to break our bad communication habits now and work to develop healthy ones that create openness in our relationships with our children.
Our Highest Priority as Parents
I believe one of our highest priorities as parents, beyond feeding and clothing, is to win our child’s heart. If you have a person’s heart, you have everything you need to be in a healthy and thriving relationship.
And it’s every parent on the planet’s goal to be in a healthy and thriving relationship with their child that lasts a lifetime.
It’s hard, and it’s work that takes more sacrifice than our society thinks is necessary (or even possible), but it’s oh so worth it.
If you strongly desire to raise kids that want to come to you first, to share their joys and victories, along with their fears, questions, and problems- you need to be sure you aren’t making the following communication mistakes.
Kids, tweens, and teens all have their own levels of sensitivity. And being repeatedly exposed to any of the following mistakes can cause your child to inadvertently shut down and stop sharing with you on a meaningful level.
And that alone is devastating for a parent.
How to Become a Parent Your Kids Won’t Talk To
When your child decides to share the random events of their day at school, confides in you about a peer pressure situation they’re struggling with, or wants to tell you a dream they have for their future… it’s a big deal.
Talking and sharing is the access to our children’s hearts, and that’s always my goal with my kids – to win their heart. If you can successfully win the heart, you win the child.
But we need to be acutely aware of the things (some of which we might not even know) that stand in our way of being a parent our kids want to talk to and share with, especially as they get older.
Here are some really huge actions to watch out for in your own behavior the next time you find yourself in a kid conversation.
1 – You Try to Fix Everything
A huge mistake loving parents make as an act of love is to swoop in mid-conversation to help your child fix their problem. After all, we’re the parents with all the experience and wisdom, right?
Wrong. Well, yes- you have wisdom and experience, but you can’t use all that right now. Your kid is wading through their issue and finding the right words and emotions to share them with you.
That’s all that matters right now. Not fixing anything.
In fact, we all probably know what this feels like. My hubby does this to me all the time and it drives me nuts. We all need to vent and let our thoughts out into the open without solutions and ideas shooting out of the sky, like heat-seeking missiles.
When we’re quick to offer solutions, what we’re really saying to the other person is they aren’t smart enough to come to a good solution on their own. We also rob our children of developing the skills to think critically and solve problems on their own.
Here are some really helpful questions to ask yourself that help create better communication.
2 – You Aren’t Fully Present
One of the most damaging things we can do repeatedly when in conversations with anyone is to not give our full attention to the person.
Like when your kid tries to talk to you, but your phone is literally still in your hand as you umm hmm through the conversation, only occasionally meeting their eyes with yours.
This tells them you’re not really listening.
I know as women we’re known for great multitasking skills, but there’s no place for multitasking in communication with our kids or our spouse.
Eye-to-eye communication is best with our phone out of sight.
I already know what you’re thinking… the last time your 10-year-old held you hostage to talk about their awesome Minecraft world they just created, you thought you actually fell asleep with your eyes open.
I get it, kids’ conversations aren’t always the most interesting for us, but every conversation lays the groundwork for more meaningful ones down the road. Hang in there!
3 – You Judge Their Feelings
When your child is sharing how they honestly feel about a situation (or even a person), and we shift right into parent mode and say something like, “now that’s not a nice way to think about her” or “is that how I taught you to talk to a friend?”, we discredit their feelings.
If your kid is in the middle of sharing their raw, unedited feelings, our best course of action is to listen, listen, and keep listening.
Judging them, no matter how much we may want to in the moment, is off-limits.
Again, think of how we feel when we vent to a friend or spouse, and we know deep inside we’re totally overreacting, but the last thing we want is to feel judged for our feelings.
All we want is an ear to listen.
After they’re done, try asking a question like, “how do you think you handled the situation?” or “would you have done things differently if you could?”
These are non-judgemental questions and allow your child to think and reason for themselves. This line of questioning helps your child learn how to solve problems and self-edit their own behavior.
Plus, they keep the conversation going and work to build more trust!
4 – You Try to Change Their Feelings
Imagine being in a conversation with a friend and you are very upset about a situation. Then, they respond to you like this:
- “I think you may be over-reacting a little…”
- “I think you should…”
- “This could get better for you if you just…”
- “You don’t need to cry about that...”
Everyone has emotions and we’re all probably guilty of overusing them. And when we’re smack-dab in the middle of a cryfest, the LAST thing anyone wants is to be told their feelings aren’t valid or that their feelings need to be changed.
The only thing your kid needs when they’re experiencing strong feelings, is support and empathy.
To fully understand empathy in an eye-opening way you’ve probably never heard, watch Brene Brown’s super short video on understanding empathy (this will help you so much!):
5 – You Blow Them Off
Blowing a person off doesn’t always look like making a date with someone and not showing up. Nope. When it comes to our kids, it’s often much more subtle than that.
This happens to me a lot… I’m working, and one of my kids comes in the room and starts to share something amazing that happened at school. Then, I say, “in a minute… let me finish this first”, and then i totally forget them when I’m done.
Kids (humans) know when they’re being blown off, and though we probably do it so often we don’t even notice it anymore, we need to stop!
If you are truly unable to speak with your child at that moment (that’s real), we need to be very skilled at keeping our word when we are available. That means getting up and finding your child, apologizing, and give them your fullest attention.
Why should you apologize? This is not out of admitting that you did something wrong, but as a means to acknowledge how sorry you are for not being available when they needed you.
And if you are truly able to stop what you’re doing at that moment… DO IT.
6 – You Make it All About You
Nobody likes a narcissist. If you compulsively turn conversations with other people toward you… stop now.
When someone is sharing with you, the conversation is and should be about them. Responding repeatedly with statements like…
- “when this happened to me as a kid, I did…”
- “what I would do is…”
- “I know I didn’t raise you like that…”
…leaves your child feeling like less than in your eyes. You are sowing seeds of comparison and competition. And if you’re a mom talking to your daughter, this is very dangerous ground.
Often times, self-absorbed communication stems from the desire to fix a situation so we end up looking good in the end. For example, if our child is acting out, we don’t want to be judged by others, so we attempt to fix it fast.
We must keep our own motives out of our kid’s conversations, and keep it about supporting and helping them. Instead of offering advice and opinions, try asking- “how can I help?“
If the answer is nothing or not now, leave it alone and don’t push to be the savior. This is a wonderful opportunity to pray for your child and let God work it out!
7 – You Freak Out
Let’s just all agree that part of being a parent is spending most of your time being shocked.
Shocked when your newborn blows out more poop than seems humanly possible, and completely surprised when your toddler paints a sharpie mural in your living room.
So, when your kid trusts you enough to tell you that a boy hit her at school today, and you immediately fly off the handle, you’re sending signals that you’ll freak out every time you hear freak out worthy news.
You’ve got to compose yourself and be cool. Count to ten, breathe slowly, or whatever you have to do, but stay calm and listen. And help them work it out.
Then, excuse yourself to your closet and shout into a pillow!
Parenting isn’t easy… that wasn’t part of the deal. But one of the greatest joys a mom can experience is the trust and loving relationship she builds with her child. It takes work, but it is the greatest work we’ll ever do!
How do you connect and keep communication flowing in your home? Share in the comments below.