This post is part of the 30 Days Towards Connected Parenting series.
One of the biggest factors in a good relationship is communication. People that make you feel good are those who you know value what you say, understand you, really listen, and accept you. We want this for our kids too! However, the way children are viewed in society means that a lot of the time we are so dismissive of them. We don’t communicate with them as respectfully as we would with another adult. To develop that close connection that’s going to help us in our parenting, we need to concentrate on how we communicate.
Stop and listen
This is really common courtesy. When someone talks to you you stop and look at them and listen. Life is busy though, especially when you have more than one child wanting something at the same time! Sometimes we’re in a rush to get things done and our kids end up talking to the back of our head while we unpack the dishwasher. It happens to me too. I’m really trying to focus on this point though. What is more important in this moment? The dishes, or my child feeling heard and valued? My child, always. So when they talk I try to stop what I’m doing and give my full attention.
Show you understand
Sometimes it’s hard for little children especially to get their point across, and we may misunderstand or assume we know what they mean. I always try to reflect back what they’ve said to be sure I’ve understood properly. Sometimes I haven’t and they explain again, or sometimes I have and they understand that I have heard and acknowledged them.
Children want to be taken seriously. When they’re upset because the blue cup is in the dishwasher sometimes we’re tempted to minimise their concerns. Really, is having a green cup instead of a blue cup that big of a deal? Can’t you just drink the water! But to them it does matter. These are the big things in their life. They’re learning to make their own decisions and express what they want. We shouldn’t make them feel silly for this and convey that what they think isn’t important. Instead, validate their concerns, empathize, and let them know you’ve heard them.
“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” – Catherine M. Wallace
It’s hard to listen when a child is upset. We love them and we want to make it better! But sometimes in our quest to ‘fix’ things we stop our child from learning how to deal with their emotions. And we send the message that they shouldn’t express themselves because how they feel makes us uncomfortable. We tell them ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’re alright’, ‘don’t worry about it’, or try to distract them from how they’re feeling. But they are allowed to feel sad. Happiness isn’t the only acceptable emotion. And if they don’t know that we can handle their big feelings they will be less likely to come to us with them in the future. Instead you could say ‘you seem really upset’, ‘that really hurt your feelings when x happened’, ‘you’re angry because of x’. Then comfort them until they have calmed down. This way they know that their feelings are valid and accepted and have practice in how to regulate their own emotions.
Changing the way we communicate with our children is one thing we can do to form a deeper connection with them. Connection can either be nurtured or damaged by how we listen and respond to our children. Overall we want them to feel heard, respected, and valuable. We can show them this by how we listen and talk to them.
What has been the hardest of these for you to overcome? For me I would have to say accepting feelings. It’s hard to see them upset and not try to distract and fix it as soon as possible.