Think about when you were a teenager.
Think about your relationship with your parents at this time. Some questions:
- Did you feel close to them?
- Could you talk to them about hard issues?
- If you couldn’t, did you wish you could?
It got me to thinking about how some people had close relationships with their parents where others did not. There’s got a to be a reason for that and I wanted to uncover it.
Here are my theories.
Common Things Parents Do That Make It Hard For Kids To Talk to Us
In our stress, tiredness, and perhaps temperament, we respond to children harshly for things they did. Common examples:
- Your child spills milk and you get angry (instead of simply assuring them that it was an accident and cleaning up would take care of it)
- Your child loses a new gift and you remind them how expensive it was and how irresponsible it was. Keep in mind, they probably already feel guilty and now you’re beating them over the head.
- Your child makes a decision that you don’t necessarily agree with so you let them know in passive ways that you don’t agree.
- They tell you something bad they did and you immediately blame them or blame some character trait they have.
Ok, let’s say you’re not negative and you still listen, but there’s apathy in your demeanor. What this is communicating to your child is:
- My parent really doesn’t understand what I’m saying
- They might be listening, but do they even care?
- Why aren’t they engaged in this conversation?
Show interest in the little things because it’ll be easier for them to let you in on the big things.
Want in on a secret? Here’s the best way to listen- hands down. If you take nothing else from this article, start doing this and you’ll almost immediately notice positive changes.
Inability to Keep Secrets
Obviously, there are some things that if they tell you shouldn’t be kept a secret. For instance, things that break the law or things that could bring bodily harm to themselves/someone else, etc. However, there are a lot of things our kids tell us that would be ok if we kept it to ourselves. Common examples:
- Your kid does something embarrassing and you tell it a dinner party
- Your child tells you how they feel towards a sibling and you tell that sibling (instead of having them go to that sibling themselves)
- Your kid has an issue with a friend and you confront that friend’s parents. (without your child knowing)
- You snoop through their diary, text messages, etc. (caveat: there are some instances where this is warranted because of safety issues, however, being nosy for the sake of nosiness is what I’m talking about)
Simply Being Unavailable
Let’s say you’re none of those things…you’re just, busy. You’re constantly doing work, doing an activity, watching tv, or on your phone. You’re so busy that you’ve left no margin or room in your day to talk and catch up with your kids.
They feel like approaching you is a bother and so, they never do.
It’s so subtle, isn’t it?
I truly believe that over the course of a childhood, if our responses echo those above we are slowly conditioning our kids that we are no longer a person they can talk to. They will start to tell us less and maybe eventually not at all.
Will it carry into adulthood?
Will we start finding things out about them second hand?
These are all rhetorical questions, of course.
Parent in such a way that your kids feel safe coming to you to talk about anything. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “You can talk to me about anything”, but unless you show them that they’re safe coming to you, it’s only words.
So how do I make it “safe” for my kids to talk to me about anything?
- Listen without giving advice
- Accept without judgment
- Be vulnerable with them, this is modeling
- Be present
- Don’t make a big deal about something that isn’t a big deal
- Make yourself available to talk
- Put your phone down
- Have fun with them and engage with them in the activities that they want to do. When you do, they can relax and let their guard down.
Above all, continually reaffirm your love for them. When people make a bad decision (intentionally or unintentionally) they need to know that someone loves them in spite of it, that someone loves them unconditionally.
And that will make you a “safe” person to confide in.