Many well intentioned parents forget the cardinal rule of talking with children. We get so caught up in guiding and directing their behavior or protecting them that we forget that they are people. The single most important key to talking with your kids is listening.
How to Listen
- Don’t talk.
- Don’t judge.
- Invite your child to talk about anything her or she wants with no repercussions.
- No commenting or editorializing allowed from you. No stories about when you were their age.
- Invite them to keep talking to you anytime they want.
- The only things you are allowed to say are, “Tell me more,” “I understand,” and “Thank you for talking with me,” or “I love you.” Try nodding and smiling as ways to invite them to talk more.
- Try to avoid applying your beliefs to what they say.
- Thank them and tell them you love them. Then say nothing else.
Practice these skills over time (at least one month, or longer) and always remember to tell your child you love them and that you are open to listening to them. If they don’t want to talk, respect their wishes and let them know that you are there when they are ready. When they do finally trust you, they will open up and then you can apply the ideas above. Once you’ve established and modeled that you can listen they may even invite you to offer your wisdom. They have to believe that you care enough to listen to them first.