#TuesdayTip: Ways to Get Your Child to Open up to You

This week’s #TuesdayTip is about ways to get your child to open up to you. Whether your child is four or fourteen, it can be difficult sometimes! First, I will list why open communication is important. Then I’ll share a personal experience that happened recently – how I got my son to open up and talk despite his anger.  And finally, I’ll share other ways experts suggest you can get your child to open up.

I think it’s incredibly important to foster open communication with your children because:

  • They learn how to use language instead of aggression to resolve problems
  • You can understand how they tick
  • You can correct any “irrational” thoughts or misperceptions (for example, “you love my sister more than you love me”)
  • Your child learns he/she can come to you during difficult times, which provides the opportunity to lead them down the right path
  • They are less likely to suffer mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression*
  • It’s the basis for a strong relationship

Getting My Son to Open Up

Flash, now five, was having one of his (what seemed like a series of) bad days. As a result, Husband and I were irritable and impatient and began taking toys and privileges away. Flash went to bed in a pool of tears. Unlike his brother, Flash struggles with talking about his feelings. He bottles them up, making it very hard for his father or me to talk to him. I was determined to find a way because I want to understand him and his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. I felt like he was internalizing everything, and I didn’t want this causing “damage” to him and our relationship. Anyways, while he shut himself off to me in his bed that night, I began talking to him again. He wouldn’t tell me why he wouldn’t talk to me, so I decided to share something personal. I said to him:

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk about my feelings too. Sometimes I feel embarrassed about what I’m feeling, and it makes it difficult for me to talk about it with Daddy. But then I do and feel much better.” He listened quietly. I then asked him, “Are you feeling: sad? angry? frustrated?” He then nodded his head in acknowledgement. “This is great,” I thought, “We are making progress.” I kept on…

After agreeing with the emotions he was feeling, I empathized with him. I said, “I can understand how you’re feeling frustrated. You worked hard at putting that Lego car together, and now we took it away. I’d feel upset too” (note I didn’t apologize for taking the Legos away – he needed to understand the consequence of his misbehavior). I let him cry, and then I did apologize for my impatience by telling him:

“You know how sometimes you have bad days? Maybe you feel really tired or angry? Well, sometimes Dad and I have bad days too. Moms and dads aren’t perfect, and we make mistakes too. I’m sorry I got so frustrated with you. I felt really frustrated because you wouldn’t listen to me. When you don’t listen to me, I feel angry.” He stopped crying, and I noticed a shift in him. It was after making this final statement that he opened up and became loving again:

“When you talk to me about your feelings and what you are thinking, it helps me be a better mom.”

He seemed to really love and appreciate that. It was like he was thinking, “Oh. Yea, we need to work on you too.” Haha. After he opened up, I thanked him for doing it and gave him a kiss and hug. Husband did the same. That way we reinforce the positive behavior (in hopes he does it again next time).

What Experts Suggest

Dr. Laura Markham, child psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, suggests you “notice the little conversation openers.” She says on her site, “When your child comes to you to tell you about his day, or that her boyfriend broke up with her, put down what you’re doing and listen.” She further explains, “It can be excruciating to tear yourself away from what you’re doing to focus on a child’s question, but how you respond to his overture is crucial in building closeness. To him, it’s an indication of whether he can count on you to talk when he needs you.” Other tips from her include: connect with your child every day, don’t jump in with advice, ask nonjudgmental questions (avoid “why” questions), try not to respond with anger despite rude responses, use indirect communication, and more.

Moms with open, successful relationships with their teens, give their two cents in this CNN article, “OMG! Your teen actually talks to you?” A few things that are mentioned include some of the mistakes parents make (e.g., they talk too much, telling them what to do at every turn). Meanwhile, several parents pitch in and share what helps get their teen to talk (even about sex, drugs, etc.), including: not being judgmental or making their child feel stupid, learning how and where their teen likes to communicate, putting on a poker face despite feeling shocked, showing fearlessness about tackling difficult topics, etc. They also pointed out that to have this type of communication, it needs to start early.

Have any more tips for me and other parents? Please share!

Reference

Preston, S. E. (2010). The association between parental perceptions of children’s residential mental health treatment and the parent-child relationship. (Order No. 3446449, Old Dominion University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 238. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/859324504?accountid=14771.

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