Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our kids more often were willing to share about how they feel and what they think about in their world and in their everyday life experiences? Many kids fear sharing their thoughts and ideas.
We wonder why some kids become shrinking violets and somehow fade away into the woodwork! As parents, we often find ourselves asking them a lot of questions yet have very few (if any) responses. The answers may be as simple as a child who feels intimidated or criticized, and is afraid to put him or herself on the line. Some kids “shut down,” and refuse to open up. We may almost find ourselves “mind-reading” our kids to get answers. We read between the lines so-to-speak. Our hope is that there can be sharing and bonding with great dialogue.
Teenagers are especially good at spacing out sometimes, and they may attempt to live in an almost isolated world where parents dare not enter. As parents, we can respect the fact that teens need their own space to reflect and gather their thoughts. However, constant isolation is a behavior that may indicate a need for intervention or professional help.
The truth is we all have a compartment of the mind that is our very own private space. However, we want to have a relationship with our children. We want to know more about them. How do they think, and what do they think about? It is common, and sometimes frustrating, for parents to be talking to our kids, while noticing they seem to be in some other world. They may act like they don’t seem to, or don’t want to hear us. Some tend to avoid conversation altogether. They may be looking straight at us, yet thinking of something completely different than the subject at hand! This behavior is very common, yet the lines of communication between the parent and child are blocked. There are many reasons for this behavior, and there are ways to minimize the blocks and build a positive bridge to bring us closer together instead.
I read a book years ago called “Body Language,” written by J. Fast. The book talked about how people in different countries communicate by using body language, including the United States. Body language speaks more loudly than the verbal messages we send. In fact, body language communicates about 90 percent of the time, and verbal communication only about 10 percent. So, there is no wonder why parents and kids have less than satisfactory dialogues. The words we use may sometimes contradict what our bodies are saying. In order to have congruent communication and open dialogue, we must first examine how we can put these two concepts into alignment. We really do want to share more with our kids, and they with us. So, in order to maximize our chances for a more adequate parent-child dialogue, we can do the following:
Question our kids
People need to ask questions to gather information. Some of the questions that get someone to open up and tell about a situation are called open questions (sometimes referred to as open-ended questions). An open question is expressed usually by a question such as, “Who brought you here, or what was the test about today in class”? These questions give the person a chance to explain, and minimizes the familiar yes and no answers.
Another question that seeks specific information is called a focused question. The question might look like this: “What was happening at five o’clock on Saturday?” Starting with a “what” in a sentence usually opens dialogues.
A third question is called a closed question. This one is almost always answered by yes or no, and the answer may be all too familiar to some parents.
A final question, and one that is discouraged is a leading question. Embedded in the leading question is the answer. It asks for “yes” or “no” answers. A rule of thumb: Don’t ask a question unless it can clarify a situation. Our goal is to create great dialogues with our kids, and avoid the blocks.
The next step is being a great listener and is a prerequisite to having a great dialogue. As parents we may find ourselves either doing all the talking, or all the listening. The balancing act is tough, although with good listening skills, it can be successful. There is a reason we were born with two ears and only one mouth! In order to consider ourselves better-than-average listeners, we must put ourselves in the other’s place. Most of the time if we give our kids the opportunity to share their perspectives and just listen, we have begun the first step in creating a dialogue. Kids will come back for more. Those once shy, insecure or isolated kids will now feel accepted and open to share without fear of criticism or rejection. Knowing they were heard and not judged on their perspectives they may step forward with self-esteem and willingness. It doesn’t mean that you agree with what their perspective is, but you listened, and that is the key.
A good listener can look at the other person and concentrate on what is being said.
A good listener can push away her or his own worries and fears (at least during the creation of a great dialogue), and be able to react to the ideas and not the person.
A good listener should not conduct a “mental argument” with the child while attempting to dialogue.
A good listener listens to what is not being said (counselors do this all the time).
A good listener does not jump to conclusions or avoids doing it if not in agreement.
A good listener checks for his or her own prejudices and evaluates the facts, not feelings.
A good listener stops talking, as we can’t do talking and listening at the same time and get positive results.
Remember, it is not a win equals win situation if the goal is to always be right. Check out the amazing results in communication when you opt to be wrong once in a while! It also shows a child that communication is about give and take. Creating great parent-child dialogues promote healthy families, and a healthier world for all of us.