Do you have an open relationship with your kids? Do you feel that you have mutual trust and respect? Are you comfortable talking to your kids about anything, and you feel that they would come to you if they had a problem or a question?
I think that most parents really have their heart in the right place, and they want to do well for their children. My nine years of teaching experience, from kindergarten through high school seniors, plus my experience as a parent, have proved this to me. But with all of the hundreds of students I have taught, I have also dealt with hundreds of parents. And I have noticed some recurring behaviors in regards to the students who felt a disconnect with their parents.
Many parents are just in survival mode. They take what their children say at face value, and have so many other stressors and distractions in life that it is easy for them to miss what is going on in their child’s world. Their child feels ignored, unimportant, or like their parents would not understand.
The other thing which I frequently observe is the parents who just do not know what to say to their kids. They hesitate to have discussions about difficult or mature topics, like puberty or sex. Since it makes the parent uncomfortable, they refrain from saying anything at all.
The problem is, at one point or another your child is going to have some troubles or some questions. If you do not have that “open door” rapport with your child, they will find their comfort or their answers elsewhere.
I do not think I need to say more than that.
I’ll give you a little bit of tough love: you are a parent. So you need to be a parent. For the sake of your child – their safety, their happiness – I do not care if it makes you uncomfortable. Your child needs to see that you love them and you are making the effort.
So let’s get to it: here are the five tips I’ve got to help you start building that open, honest communication with your kid.1. What do you want them to know (or be able to do)?
You first need to have a clear idea of the end-goal, whether that’s how to stay safe when around cars or what to do if someone bullies them or how babies are made. It can be teaching a task like washing hands or a concept like what sympathy is.
Example: I wanted my three year old to be responsible, safe and calm around cars (e.g. In the parking lot). So I thought of how I wanted him to demonstrate that: waking calmly, listening, staying close to me, following instructions.
2. Think of an easy-to-remember, easy-to-understand way to explain this task/skill/concept.
Don’t be verbose or confusing. Just say what you want to say. Bonus for little kids: alliteration, rhymes, and chants are super simple and the kids will remember them better. If your child can’t easily memorize and recall the information, it’s useless.
Example: I ask my son when we park, “is it time to be silly or safe?” He knows it’s time to be safe, and we’ve talked about examples of how to do that.
3. Repeat often. Like, really often.
If you’re not sick of the phrase or saying, you’re not repeating it often enough. The goal here is to get a Pavlovian result: your kid automatically hears the phrase in their brain or gets to the point that they know what to do without thinking. (This is why the phrase must be easily recalled).
Example: We have the same dialogue every friggin’ time we go somewhere (usually 1-2x/day most weekdays). My son now says “time to be safe Mama!” as soon as he feels the car shift into park. We haven’t had any issues with safety in a while. He even “teaches” this lesson to his toys and stuffed animals when he plays!
4. Even after the concept is mastered (or you’re confident that your kid understands), continue to revisit it regularly.
Just like kids in late elementary school need to occasionally review their alphabet, don’t assume that once something is learned you never need to speak about it again. Try new techniques, like having your child explain it back to you or using different vernacular.
Example: we still chant “time to be safe!” when we go to the store, and we discuss things we observe which are safe or unsafe.
5. Make a decision on how you’ll respond when your child forgets or screws up. Because it’ll happen.
Don’t leave it to chance – think about what you want to say, and what emotion you want to demonstrate, when your child makes a bad decision. For me personally, if it has to do with the safety of my children, I am pretty intense and unforgiving. I do not scream or yell, and I am always respectful of my child, but he can tell by the look on my face and my tone of voice that this is serious. We do not mess around when it comes to being safe.
If the concept you are teaching or explaining it is more abstract, or not as black-and-white as my example, just have a discussion with your child. Remember that you are on the same team as your kid, you are not trying to trick them or beat them at anything. You are trying to prepare them for the real world, where they can contribute to society in a positive way.
Example: I kneel down and speak sternly and calmly to my child about how wandering away from me in the parking lot is not safe. He understands that I love him and I want to protect him, so it is essential that he listens to me.
You are their parent. So be a parent to them.
It’s never too early to begin these serious conversations with your child, and it is so incredibly important. We are charged with protecting our kids and keeping them safe. That begins with respectful discussion which grows trust and encourages honesty.
Tell me what you think: was this helpful? What strategies and habits do you utilize to create open, honest communication with your child?