Communicating with teenagers and kids in a positive way will help your kid understand that they can come to you with problems, not hide away. In the real world, not every life situation and experience is “positive”. As parents, we have to learn how to be our children’s support systems through the good and the bad.
My 9 year old daughter was approaching me – head down and shuffling her feet. I could tell she really wanted to tell me something, but wasn’t sure.
Upon seeing her hesitation, I had a million questions through my head. Do I look approachable? Is she scared to tell me something important? I want her to always feel like she can come to me.
My mind drifted back to an old memory. A girl I knew from high school accidently got pregnant at age 16.
For fear of being kicked out of her home, she didn’t tell her mother. She wore baggy sweatshirts and hardly ate anything for months to hide it.
I can only imagine the scary and terrible thoughts that crowded her mind during those months. I remember thinking that if only she felt comfortable going to her parents with her problems things would be much better for her.
At that moment, I vowed that when I had kids I would do everything I could to encourage them to come to me with problems, not hide their problems from me.
I need my kids to know and believe in their hearts that they can come to me with any problems, big or small, and we will work it out together.
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How to Encourage Kids and Teens to Communicate
Communicating with teenagers and kids can be challenging even on a good day.
I asked all three of my kids how school was yesterday and I was lucky if I got a shrug.
How to do you develop strong rooted bonds with your kids so that they know they can rely on you for support no matter what happens? You do these 5 things:
1) Tell YOUR problems
Communication is a two-way street.
If you want to gain your kid’s trust, you have to show some trust in them.
You are not perfect, and when you stop trying to act like you are then you child will feel more comfortable talking to you about their shortcomings and issues.
Be open with them about problems that you are dealing with (without traumatizing them), how you feel, and how you plan to overcome obstacles.
Tell you kid that you are stressed because you missed a deadline at work and have to work late to make up for it. Explain to them that you got in an argument with a friend and need to apologize.
When your child sees you as a human instead of an authority figure they will be more likely to confide in you.
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2) Put on an Accepting Expression
Have you heard, “Mom, I have to tell you something…(observes your expression), nevermind…”?
Body language is important to your kid. They can sense when you are uncomfortable, disappointed, or upset.
When your kid approaches you with a problem of any magnitude, force yourself to display a calm expression and speak with a gentle tone.
Always check and re-check your body language when your kid approaches you with a delicate conversation. Of course you will be upset sometimes, but display acceptance at all times.
3) Strengthen Your Relationship with a Shared Hobby
When you spend one-on-one time with your kid, you won’t believe how much they open up to you.
Develop a hobby with your child that they can rely on and expect. And communicating with teenagers will come naturally if you are bonding over a joint interest.
Your hobby can be something simple such as:
- Color together at night
- Read a chapter book together
- Go on regular hikes
- Bring your daughter to a nail saloon
- Play basketball outside in the evening
- Take a painting/cooking class
Find a reason to spend time together on a regular basis to develop trust and open up time for conversation.
4) Proactively ASK Your Kids to Open up
If you don’t ask, your kid or teenager may not tell.
Asking ‘how’s it going’ isn’t going to get you anywhere with most kids.
I regularly ask my kids inquiring questions like:
- Did anything bad happen at school?
- Is anything worrying you right now?
- Are you having any problems with your friends?
- What would you like to change right now if you could?
Your child will be suspicious if you drill them with these questions, so naturally work them into regular conversations.
If my kid is in an especially standoff-ish mood, I ask “can you let me inside your brain?”, which signals to them I really want to talk.
5) Listen and Give Advice, Not Criticism
The fastest way to scare your kid away from coming to you with problems, is to criticize them when they open up.
As much as their problems may scare, anger, or upset you, listen calmly and give advice when they are done speaking.
If you feel the urge to criticize their choices or actions, bite your tongue hard and remember that the brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25 (according to experts).
Advise is giving guidance, while criticism is only reflecting on the negativity.
Don’t judge what happened, help them move forward to fix their problem or prevent it in the future.
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Final Thoughts on Communicating with Teenagers and Kids
Your child will have problems and stressors.
They will make mistakes- most likely some will be pretty ugly.
Wouldn’t you rather them come to you with problems, instead of try to hide things from you?
On top of these 5 tips, remind your kid regularly that you love them unconditionally. No problem is too large to compete with the love in your home.
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Also read: How to Raise Kids that Own Their Mistakes