It's good to talk (emotions with your child)
Being a parent is tough. One of the key challenges is knowing how to communicate with your child, and how to encourage them to communicate with you as they grow through all the stages from cute little toddlers into opinionated young adults.
All parents find themselves on the receiving end of our child’s indifference, or rebellion, at some point. They all test our boundaries (and our patience) as they find their way into adulthood, and from time to time, we can also get trapped in cycles of response that don’t help, such as bickering, nagging, or criticising.
Young people often behave in ways which make it difficult for us to give them what they need from us (love and acceptance), but as parents we can help the situation by improving our communication skills. Try some of these simple techniques:
Talk with your child when you don’t need to have a ‘discussion’ about something. Chatting, off-message, on a regular basis will help to keep lines of communication open.
If you use open questions (questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’), your child is more likely to find themselves in a conversation with you before they know it.
Share something of yourself. This doesn’t mean that every conversation should be about you, but if you let your child know who you are, they are more likely to see you as a whole person rather than their taxi-driver or bank.
Whenever you can, treat your child as an equal. Their opinion is valid, even if it is different to yours. If you do this, then when you do have to be the authority figure and lay down the law, they are more likely to listen.
Practise what you preach. Most young people (like most adults) hate hypocrisy. They will find it hard to respect you if you don’t model the behaviour you expect from them.
Love them but stick to strong, consistent boundaries over their behaviour. Make it clear to them what your expectations are, and hold them to account calmly and fairly if they overstep the boundaries (which they are likely to do).
Include your child in activities with family and friends, but let them opt out if they want. This will make them feel loved and wanted, but won’t put undue pressure on them.
Communication can be even trickier when your child is struggling with negative emotions, whether they’re feeling anger, sadness, fear, grief, or a mixture of more than one of these. If
your child is struggling with their emotions, try these 5 steps:
Emotions can be really confusing. Help them to put a name to their emotion. You can do this by asking questions (How are you feeling? Do you feel sad?) or by making observations (You look a little sad today). Remember that it’s likely they are feeling a mixture of emotions that are difficult to separate from each other, so try helping them to name as many as they can.
Tell them that everyone feels confusing emotions from time to time, and that their feelings are important. Tell them you will listen to them without judging, criticising, or offering solutions at this stage, and make sure you do this! Put your emotions on hold for the time-being and focus on your child.
Our child’s worries can often seem small to us as grown-ups, but remember how huge and overwhelming they can feel for your child. Try to imagine yourself in your child’s shoes so you can understand how they feel. Tell them what you imagine it must be like, and ask them if you’ve got that right. Listen to their answers.
Once you have completed the first 4 steps you can (gently but firmly) set down some boundaries about their behaviour. This is the time to say, “I understand you’re angry, and I understand why, but swearing at me is not ok”, or “I know you’re sad and that’s totally understandable, but shutting yourself in your room isn’t the answer”.
Now that you have really connected with your child, and reached a good understanding, you can help them to find solutions. If you can fix the root problem, great! If they are angry because they’re being bullied, you can help them to talk to their school about how to stop the bullying from happening. However, some root problems can’t be easily fixed, so you will need to look for solutions that will help your child to cope and feel happier. For instance, if they are grieving for somebody who has passed away, you can acknowledge that they are likely to feel sad for a while, but you can suggest that they make up a photo album of happy memories, and make time in your routines to do some fun activities together that will help them to feel more positive.
Every child, every parent and every situation is different, so you may not be able to work through all of these steps in one sitting, or one day. It may take several months before your child can understand their emotions, and work through healthy ways to manage them. Don’t push them too hard if they’re not ready, but keep trying, and use these 5 steps to help you stay on track.